BYU student shares his journey to telling meaningful stories through photography

Photographer Lily Balif shares the factors that have shaped her in her photography journey. Balif seeks to tell stories through his photography. (Made in Procreate by Tenley Hale)

Lily Balif, a BYU student and photographer, hopes her work will communicate something deeper than a beautiful image to look at.

“Whether it’s annoying people, upsetting them, or making them feel good, I just want people to feel something when they see my work.” Balif said.

Lily Balif takes a selfie. Balif hopes his work will make people feel something deeper. (Photo courtesy of Lily Balif)

Balif grew up in a family of nine siblings with parents who encouraged them to pursue their creative endeavors.

From writers, graphic designers, philosophers, carpenters and photographers, Balif was exposed to many creative mediums through her siblings. She attributes her passion for photography to this early access to creative mentors.

Another important creative mentor for Balif was his high school photography teacher, William Salley.

“He saw my desire to become a real photographer and to push myself artistically, so he gave me extra attention,” Balif said. “Having this mentor to push me and believe in me was a catalyst for my passion for photography.”

After high school, Balif came to BYU and entered the Interdisciplinary Design program with a major in photography. balif said studying at BYU was a great experience.

“I was very lucky to have teachers who understood my work and supported my unique journey here at BYU,” Balif said.

Her biggest complaint with her BYU photo classes is that people are so positive it can be hard to get reviews.

“I love how people see other people as children of God, but at the same time I just want to say, ‘Be mean to me, give me real feedback,'” Balif said.

BYU photography professor Daniel George said what he loved most about teaching at BYU was seeing the students develop their ideas into physical labor.

George said he got to see Balif develop his own ideas and style this semester. “For Lily, I can see that she is very aware of the communicative aspects of the photographic medium and how it functions as a language,” George said.

balif said the communicative nature of photography is his passion.

“I like art or media that is so accessible that anyone can look at it and connect with it,” Balif said. “I want people to look at my work and see a world they identify with.”

Some of her biggest influences come from movies like Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love” or anything written by Norah Ephron. Other influences include photographers like Molly Matalon, Martin Parr, Carrie Mae Weems and William Eggleston. Balif is drawn to photographers who can tell a story or create a new world with a photograph.

balif said one of the most important things for her when creating photographs is intention.

“A lot of people think of photography as just taking pictures of things that are already there, and that’s true, but sometimes that can be an excuse to fall back on,” Balif said.

She said her desire to make her work intentional is what drives her to pay attention to small details and take responsibility for every part of an image.

“Even though I can’t completely explain why I kept something in a photo, I have to be able to say, ‘It was a choice,'” Balif said. “These intentional details, in my opinion, separate a photographer from a true artist.”

Balif said she is drawn to perfect lighting and beautiful shadows, which she says can make her work look idealistic. His hope is to create images that are beautiful and striking to the point that they seem to draw the viewer in.

Thomas Blackwelder befriended Balif through Instagram and often modeled for her. “Our relationship has always become very natural,” Blackwelder said. “She’ll have an idea and I’ll instantly be there to help her.”

Blackwelder shared that one of the things he loves most about modeling for Balif is the unspoken connection they share.

“Our friend once compared us to a figure skating team, it works,” Blackwelder said.

In 2020, the dynamic duo decided to create Billy’s portrait studio.

“I was really inspired by the high school yearbook photos from the 70s and 80s and decided it would be fun to try and recreate that,” Balif said.

The team took portraits at seven events around Provo before life got too busy. “It was a really fun experience creating work that wasn’t so serious,” Balif said.

Balif said managing Billy’s Portrait Studio helped her realize she didn’t enjoy the management side of photography.

“It helped me realize that I had no desire to be a brand, just a photographer,” Balif said.

For Blackwelder, Balif’s attention to detail and creative process makes her more than just a photographer.

“When I talk about Lily, she’s an artist whose primary medium is photography,” Blackwelder said. “Her work is meant to mean something and communicate an idea, and that’s what sets her apart.”

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