Lillian Morales earned a master's degree at the UI studying the work of Rembrandt, Monet and Jackson Pollock, but these days she earns a living by shooting photographs of (mostly) four-legged creatures at the UI veterinary clinics.
A native of Little Rock, Ark., she began working as a scientific photographer at Biomedical Communications about 12 years ago. She specialized in photography at a small fine arts college in Memphis. She has a UI master's degree in art history.
As a scientific photographer for the UI's College of Veterinary Medicine, Morales shoots creative photos like those used in brochures and pamphlets and scientific shots like those of a diseased cow liver for slides to be used in a professor's lecture. She also frequently shoots photos of surgeries at the large and small animal clinics, and documents the recovery progress of the animal clients.
How did your interest in photography come about?
I knew I wanted to be a photographer when I was 8. This sounds cliché, but my mom did give me a little Brownie box camera, and I started taking black-and-white pictures, mostly of my pets and of my friends.
What is a typical photography assignment for you?
There is no one typical thing I photograph. I am pretty much on call throughout the day, and you never know what you're going to get called away to do. For instance, there was a horse that came in and they suspected it had lymphoma so I did a series of photographs that illustrated the symptoms the horse had at the time. And there are emergency cases that come in -- they may entail anything from broken legs to patients that have been hit by cars. And I do a lot of things for the oncology department here -- that's a fast growing area in small-animal medicine right now. And I do a lot of dental photography, things like root canals and gum disease. That's becoming a big thing for dogs and cats, too. They're finding that dentistry is actually a very important part of a pet's health.
What's been the most unusual job experience for you?
That would have to be working with the different exotic animals that come into the clinics, such as lions, tigers, bears and the various wildlife such as deer, geese, hawks, owls and other wild animals.
What's it like to photograph surgery in progress?
I always have to wear proper surgical attire, and because it's a sterile environment I can't touch anything. I usually have to stand on a step stool so I can see directly into the cavity or area where they are doing surgery. I'm not guessing what to shoot. They tell me specifically what it is that they want. You learn a lot, and it's really interesting.
I think some people have this idea that surgery is a horrific thing to watch, but that's normally not the case. It's very controlled; the patients are draped and under anesthesia.
What do you do when you're not taking scientific photographs?
I am really into cycling. Usually during the summer, once I leave work I'm off on my bike. I ride some with the Prairie Cycling Club, and some other friends and I have our own group. Depending on how long the days are -- like in July -- we can go to Monticello and back after work. But typically we go to St. Joseph or Sidney or Mahomet and the closer surrounding areas.
And my husband [Cesar Romero] and I enjoy doing these kind of whirlwind weekend trips to Chicago, hitting all the galleries and museums, and we go antiquing and visit restaurants. My husband's a painter and does computer animation, so we like to see what's going on in the art world.
Being a Little Rock native, did you ever meet Bill or Hillary Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas?
I met him at a Christmas party when he was governor. My brother's house kind of butted right up to the back of the governor's mansion. [Bill Clinton] was very nice. Very personable.
Is Champaign-Urbana much different from living in Little Rock?
Little Rock is paradise for an outdoors person, and I do enjoy the outdoors. But this town has more diversity. Most of our friends are from all over the world. I like that about this town.