The Muse: Eli Wirija, the rising photographer lighting up Instagram

Elizabeth Wirija - who prefers to be called Eli - is the Indonesian-born, NYC-based talent to watch. "I create art that manifests into photography or short films in its truest form through my interpretation," she tells us. "I aim to document narratives that inspire others and make them feel something genuine. Like where you sit in your silence and not realize you're carrying a new story within you but it's there." Below, the 23-year-old photographer talks anime inspiration, beauty subcultures on IG and staying true to herself.

Hey Eli! What is one of your first photographic memories?

Definitely not my first but one of the most memorable childhood memories I can recall is on one clear day during monsoon season in Jakarta. We often experience flooding due to torrential downpour. This is one of the times it was especially bad because the water travelled all the way up the slope into our gate then into our front yard. The water is a deep muddy color and dancing with the wind that came. My dad took that situation and decided to have fun by thinking of it as our own little waterpark. We hurriedly gathered our bright buckets and started trying to catch tadpoles in our pajamas. We might’ve successfully caught a few but the whole time I was incredibly happy. I was probably around 8 or 9 years old. When we entered back into the house, we were drenched and smelled horrible. My mother found out and was petrified, I remember the look on her face – she was so mad. I was probably around 8 or 9 years old.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a photographer? Did you ever have a ‘Plan B’ career choice?

I don’t think there was ever an “aha” moment for me. I always had the fascination towards photography and it was an on and off passion until I start taking it seriously a 3 years ago. There was never a plan B for me, I actually majored in graphic design. Landed a few freelance gigs at corporate ad agencies and decided it was not for me when I was stuck in the office designing coupons and was the youngest person in there in a t-shirt while everyone else was wearing suits. Photography made me feel free.

Do you feel more inspired working in New York?

New York definitely is inspiring, but there is also a heavy level of pressure here to be constantly creating. You have to maintain this idea of being busy all the time. Which I grew to despise. I’m learning that I need to take my time, there is no value of cranking out work that I’m lukewarm about. I’m meant to experience life and then get back to my art so I have something to make art about. Being relevant is not as important as my peace of mind. I do enjoy the energy of the city that is perpetually changing and expanding with new people coming and going.

Who are some of your biggest inspirations?

Wong Kar Wai, David LaChapelle, Haruki Murakami, Frank Ocean.

How would you describe your photography style in three words?

Eccentric, Experimental, Honest.

What’s been a career highlight for you so far?

All my personal projects that came from the center of my heart: Alien ChildrenConjoinedMUSE and NORIENTAL. I’m also happy that big brands fuck with me and trust me to work for them and often give me creative freedom because they believe in my vision.

Do you think Instagram has homogenized beauty in any way? If so, how?

There will always be trends, the medium channeling it is just different now. Before it was TV and now it’s social media. We can broadcast our likes and dislikes to the world and it’s accessible by almost every single being with a phone and internet connection. Beauty is subjective, I find those who are unapologetic in their truth the most beautiful of them all. There will never be one prototype, the great thing about being exposed to so much factors and information is our ability to filter our what’s for us and what’s not. I hope the variants of that beauty will be completely different than one another. We are subconsciously affected by all the stimuli that we ingest on a daily basis, what we’re drawn to can be influenced by what we are exposed to. I do think there is a subculture of people who determine their own definition of beauty and that’s what I love to see.

What is your definition of beauty?

When an energy or scene is so engaging, you can’t look away.

The film that’s shaped you the most?

Enter the void for it’s alternative perspective and POV. Studio Ghibli movies for its utterly delightful imagination and characters. I recently watched the matrix again and loved the spiritual undertones to the sci-fi storyline.

Your ultimate style icon?

Andre 3000 during his Outkast Era where he was playing around with textures and color blurring the line between femininity and masculinity. There should be no gender in clothing.

What TV, film or literary character has inspired your style the most over the years and why?

The daring style of Chris Tucker’s character in Fifth Element.

Who are your top five female creatives to follow on Instagram?

Nadine Ijewere, Ruth Ginika Ossai, Eponine Huang, Marlou Fernanda, Erika Bowes.

The one quote you live your life by?

Fly high, don’t worry about what the clouds think.

The number one advice you’d give to photographers starting out?

Experiment a lot, you can always learn something new in any situation, create with intention and concept behind the work, utilize social media and play the game, study the business and legal side to being a freelance creative (invoices, negotiation, usage, etc).

Finally, your dream creative goal?

To build an empire and name so powerful that it uplifts everyone else in my community and bring light to different areas in the universe that needs it. To continually secure and mutually collaborate through commissions with colossal brands that understand the meaning of art and compensate accordingly. Tap into different sides of my creativity and resume design clothing and eventually spaces + experiences.

To check at more of Eli’s work, follow @elizabethwirija.


  • Main image Portrait of Elizabeth Wirija Interview

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