Mexican-born and LA-based photographer Izaac Enciso‘s latest book Symbols blends contemporary street photography with found objects and intervention. Enciso’s process involves creating a “mind map” of things he wants to photograph before going out and exploring familiar environs with his camera. On the street and in the moment, he’s not afraid to intervene to create an image that looks both recognizable and otherworldly. As a whole, Symbols is a powerful collection that shows how much space there is to do something exciting and new—even in the crowded realm of street photography. To get a better idea of his process and how he approaches his work, VICE hit up Enciso and asked him a few questions.
VICE: Having an explicit idea of what you want to shoot and actually getting lost in the cities you photograph seem to be important, divergent aspects of your work. Can you explain how these two different approaches affect your images?
Izzac Enciso: In my project Symbols, I mostly wanted to make conceptual street photography. By making small drawings, I would brainstorm and think of concepts or situations I would like to shoot. It didn’t really mean I wanted to shoot those specific images since it was all about encountering situations out of my control, or improvising with found objects. But having a mind map of things that I would like to see would put me a step further into finding something similar, something better, or something I hadn’t thought of.
Why Symbols? Some symbols are associated with stigma. Are you concerned about pigeonholing yourself?
The title became clear after a while of shooting for this project. Being conceptual could be associated with being symbolic, they’re sort of synonyms and Symbols is an easy word to remember.
When shooting for the project, I felt I was projecting something personal and the project became symbolic to me. I would treat some of the photos like tarot cards that I could interpret my own way. I felt like the images had a deeper meaning. To give you an example: There is an image with oranges I found in the street that are arranged a certain way. It is symbolic to me because I live on a street called “Orange,” I have a big orange tree in my yard, and I am an orange and citrus fruit lover. The image is arranged in a way I can only interpret and it makes total sense even though I didn’t plan it to be that way. After shooting, I would read some of the images that were interesting to me and gave them my own interpretation. They became symbolic.
Talk about fear versus adventure.
Symbols was definitely an adventurous journey that was tinged by some scary moments. Adventure to me is like a romantic way of living life, trying new things, getting to new places, and so on. Things that you do with a level of control, things that maybe you know won’t kill you. Fear is not totally romantic, it usually seems to be something that can affect you and most times is out of your control. Walking in Los Angeles and its neighborhoods and experiencing its diversity at street level, roaming its alleyways and lurking under the freeways was adventurous for me. It was also exciting to travel and re-visit cities where I have lived in Mexico and get lost in these places, like a tourist would, but with memories of the past. I walked in some LA neighborhoods where adrenaline can run a bit high. It was thrilling to walk long hours for these images.
Talk about found gestures and forgotten relics.
I can connect “found gestures” with the traces of human activity, the conscious creations in our daily lives without an intention to be creative or artistic. They are mostly done with a utilitarian purpose. “Forgotten relics” could be the unconscious creations we’ve done without noticing and without any purpose, it can be any kind of object left behind. At times in Symbols, it was really hard to have a moment when I felt that reassurance I spoke about before. There were days when I didn’t capture any found gestures or forgotten relics that I considered of visual value. By recovering a small practice I started in 2011, I started improvising in the street with found objects. They acted as interventions I did so I could get a new possibility to capture what I couldn’t find during a certain day. I did these interventions and left them around for other pedestrians to observe. It was a gift of return and gratitude.
How do you know when you’ve found something you really don’t like?
The same way I do when I find something I really like. I feel it in my guts. But I tend to filter the things I don’t like and just search for the ones I do. Perhaps the feeling of finding something I don’t like is uncomfortable, but I try to keep myself open and often times that’s what expands my perception of new things I can actually like. You learn that a lot by traveling and experiencing different cultures, ideologies, speaking other languages, getting out of the comfort zone, etc. I’ve learned to appreciate things I’m not used to and I try to keep it that way. There is great value in finding the things I really don’t like. In Symbols there is a good amount of those things.
See images from Enciso’s new series below. You can follow his work here.
Efrem Zelony-Mindell is a writer and artist based in NYC. You can follow his work here.