Lily Brooks was born in Massachusetts in 1981. She received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art + Design (2006) and an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin (2014), where she was named a Powers Research Fellow. Recent exhibitions include We Have to Count the Clouds, a solo show in conjunction with the 2019 PhotoNOLA Festival at The Front in New Orleans, Siren Call, a solo exhibition at the Volland Store in the Flint Hills of Kansas, Forces at Work, a three-person show at the Visual Arts Center in Austin TX, the 2016 Magenta Foundation Festival Exhibition in Toronto, ON, and the 2017 Louisiana Contemporary exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. Her work has been published nationally in the Austin Chronicle, Cabinet Magazine, and online for Ain't-Bad Magazine. She was interviewed for NPR’s Central Standard in 2018. Lily is a full-time Instructor of Photography at Southeastern Louisiana University and lives and works in Baton Rouge.

We Have to Count the Clouds is currently on view in conjunction with PhotoNOLA at The Front, 4100 St Claude Ave, New Orleans, December 8, 2018 – January 6, 2019.

We Have to Count the Clouds

2011 – Present

In the ongoing series We Have to Count the Clouds, photographs function as evidence of the ways in which we comprehend, negotiate, and mediate our relationship to both daily weather and our changing climate. In looking closely at the marks that are made–in the prediction of weather, the tracking of meteorological data, as well as on the landscape and human body itself­–the work presents visual remnants of often-invisible forces.

I moved from Boston to Texas in August of 2011, during the worst drought since the 1950’s. Conversations about the heat were ubiquitous and as tedious as the temperature itself. On the hottest day of the year, I painstakingly cut out the weather map from a newspaper. It was 112° outside the window of my apartment, where I glued the map to the glass. Backlit, the delicate shape of the country was all pinks and reds, collapsed by my camera upon its verso, then the window, screen, and landscape. The photograph hung on my studio wall for months. 
Meanwhile, as I lamented my sweat and discomfort, true disasters were happening around me as a result of this drought. A wildfire just east of Austin burned 1600 homes. Ranchers across the region were forced to sell their stock, unable to keep them watered. I returned to the photograph of the weather map.

I considered this paper map, an outline of the country filled with cartoon symbols, as a kind of tarot card. Buried amid the record of what had happened in the preceding 24-hours, the map was a published prediction of what might come next. It represented something immediate, but was also evidence of a greater, longer, more devastating crisis. I thought about all that data—now rendered by little suns and the scalloped edges of cold fronts—and wondered where it came from. 

I seek out the permanent traces of what is sometimes hard to see with a camera. At weather stations and out in the world I look for mark making–in the form of a graph, newspaper weather map, or handwritten climatological record. The landscape shows evidence as well–cracked earth, flood debris, charred trees, erosion. Other indicators, immediate and temporary, like sunburn or goose bumps, appear on the human body. Promising protection, the built environment becomes a monument to our vulnerability. As personal as it is political, the work addresses my own wonder and fear as it points to the fragility and hubris inherent in this tenuous relationship.

We Have to Count the Clouds (Four by Six), 2013 © Lily Brooks

Wind, 2018 © Lily Brooks

Erosion at Aquinnah, 2018 © Lily Brooks


Why Southeastern Louisiana University? 

Southeastern Louisiana University is the third-largest public institution in the state and serves a diverse population from New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the North Shore region, and beyond. The small but rigorous Department of Visual Art + Design offers students a BA in Studio Art with a chosen concentration in various disciplines, including photography. Students are able to balance a strong liberal arts education with a focused fine arts education. We bolster curriculum with a robust visiting artist program, regular field trips and access to the cultural center that is New Orleans, and an intimate educational setting nestled within a larger university and its resources. We pride ourselves on offering great facilities in our cutting-edge labs, where students can access industry-standard hardware and software regardless of their personal resources (for instance, no student is required to own a camera, laptop, or subscribe to the creative cloud–our labs are funded and outfitted in the interest limiting barriers to entry).

What courses do you teach? 

I teach all levels of undergraduate photography–from Basic Digital and Basic Darkroom to Senior Projects in Photography (a yearlong course in which students develop a capstone body of work and exhibition under close mentorship from me). I also teach the History of Photography and Electronic Imaging and special topics courses based in studio practice and theory. Two recent courses I have introduced are Image/Sequence: The Photo Book and Issues in Contemporary Photography.

How does your program bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary photographic practices? 

I recently revised our photography curriculum to reflect a contemporary and comprehensive approach to the medium, while still placing emphasis on an analog and digital technical foundation. I have a deep interest in the connection and synthesis that exist between the technical and conceptual aspects of photographic practice, as well as its history and the ways it is constantly changing and intersecting with other disciplines within and beyond the arts. Assignments are designed to address these concerns in concert with each other, while allowing students to find and follow their own interests–using the materials appropriate to their ideas, especially at the intermediate and advanced levels. I strive to create an environment that balances an emphasis on intellectual and creative rigor with space for self-expression and risk-taking, while placing value on personal and research-based writing, the knowledge my students bring to the classroom and the stories they wish to tell. Currently, I have senior photography students working with cyanotypes, silver gelatin printing from medium format film, appropriated imagery, multimedia/collage, painting, sculpture, sound, and video. I feel lucky to be part of a close-knit faculty who are collaborative and supportive of each other and our students, helping them realize their research with material innovation regardless of their “home” discipline.

Describe the process of output for photographs. 

Students are absolutely encouraged to make prints! We have an analogue darkroom and a robust digital lab, including 44” and 24” inkjet printers and scanners. We also have access to a lighting studio, printmaking studio, 3D printer, CNC router, and other facilities across the department, including those in our highly-ranked New Media and Animation area.

Describe the critique format. 

Critiques happen in class (private, with the class throughout the semester), regular individual meetings, and in a senior review (public, with an interdisciplinary faculty jury). I place emphasis on the insight my students bring to each other, and ask them to be critical and generous during critique. Throughout the department, we ask students to support their visual and material investigations with research based in theory and history. Being the only full time faculty member in photography, I am particularly committed to invite visiting artists (we will have had seven in photo between this year and last)–I think introducing a diversity of voices and perspectives is so important. These artists give lectures but also step into critiques, do hands-on workshops, and facilitate Q&A sessions on professional practices. I also recently certified my senior projects class as “Real World Ready”, enabling me to apply for and receive funding specifically for outside portfolio reviewers each semester.

Where can we keep up with your photo department online?