Born in Mexico City in 1959, Eniac MartĂnez began his training in photography when he was 21 years old. Since then, he has held 23 solo exhibitions around the world and has won prizes and fellowships from organizations that include the Fulbright Program and Mother Jones Foundation. Eniac MartĂnez shows in Nuestra Mirada his vision of Mexico City, comprised of a series of images shot during the production of Vivir Mata (â€śLiving Killsâ€ť), screenplay by the talented Juan Villoro. Here, an in-depth conversation with a creator who makes experimentation a method, and work a destination.
By Pablo Corral Vega
How did you become interested in photography?
I studied visual arts, and for a while I was devoted to printmaking and drawing, but I needed to get away from the seclusion of that very inwardly focused work. My curiosity for other worlds and other situations brought me, little by little, into photography, almost without my thinking about it. The malleability of photography combines well with life and travel. Things fell together in such a way that I got involved with street photography, and documentary photography, which is what I am most passionate about. I started at the newspaper La Jornada in 1987. It was not a job that interested me, but it was a good place to learn because you get real-world experience and you meet many people. Photojournalists must take photos all day, and in that environment you learn to deal with any situation. This concept of rigor stayed with me; there are twenty photographers in one place, and you are trying to get the best possible photo.
Many of the great Mexican photographers come out of La Jornada.
Marco Antonio Cruz and Pedro Valtierra initially gave the newspaper weight, and they were followed by Fabricio LeĂłn, Elsa Medina, and AndrĂ©s Garay. It was a whole generation. Many of them left photojournalism in order to become documentary photographers with more personal bodies of work. They have had good, steady careers; they are active and working on new projects. I learned about photography from two main places. One of these was the photojournalism that I did during the brief time I was at La Jornada, and the other was the Monday workshop led by Pedro Meyer.
What was the Monday workshop?
It was a workshop that we could never find a name for. We would get together in a very relaxed way at the Mexican Photography Council. A very good group of people came out of there: Gabriel Orozco, RubĂ©n Ortiz, Pablo Cavado (a very good Argentine photographer), Mauricio and Manuel Rocha, Graciela Iturbideâ€™s sons, GermĂˇn Herrar, VĂctor Gayol, and more whom I am forgetting.
What did you do in this workshop?
It was essentially a critique; what was important was to arrive with new photographs, with projects, put them on the table, and endure everyoneâ€™s criticism. Sometimes there would be guests. On one occasion Gilles Perez came, because Pedro Meyer had many contacts. We talked about photography, but it wasnâ€™t enough to say that you liked a photo; you had to prepare a speech that explained why this or that photo was relevant.
Did it have a documentary focus?
No, the important thing was to have something to say, because we had to converse with people like Gabriel Orozco or RubĂ©n Ortiz â€“ who had more of an artistic focus â€“ and others like Pablo Cavado or myself, who were working on the street. I think that hearing constant critiques drives you to work harder. You could not arrive on Monday without photos because it was a kind of competition. Pedro was a good guide for everyone; teaching interested him. Seventy percent of those who participated in the workshop are still active in photography. Some are artists, others work in fashion, I continue with documentary photography. Over the years, you apply your experiences to your work in photography.
The rhythms of photojournalism and the rhythms of documentary photography are very different. One of the problems for those who work all day at newspapers or magazines is that they do not have the freedom to explore or to honor their own internal rhythms.
During the time that I worked as a photojournalist I used to think, â€śWhat am I doing? I am spending my life taking pictures that donâ€™t interest me. If I continue taking isolated photographs, Iâ€™m never going to produce work that is personal.â€ť So I decided to go to New York, to the ICP [the International Center of Photography], to take several workshops. Upon my return, in 1987, I made my first movie. Film photography has been a regular job for me. Recently the book about Alejandro GonzĂˇlez IĂ±Ăˇrrituâ€™s movie Babel came out, and it includes photos of mine. A book of my photos from the first movie directed by Diego Luna is about to come out. In fact, what I show here in Nuestra Mirada is my vision of Mexico City from a movie called Vivir Mata, with a screenplay by Juan Villoro and directed by the great documentary filmmaker NicolĂˇs EcheverrĂa. Using film as a great pretense interests me. Film gets involved with the city and its people, its tools, its teams, and its costumes. I treat that whole fictitious structure of film as one more character in the city that Iâ€™m photographing.
If you lose the capacity for wonder you lose everything.
Everything. I tell my students that there is no single way of working; the same project is going to require you to use a particular tool or technique. That is what makes it more fun, more playful. Basque artist, Eduardo Chillida, a childhood virtuoso, used to say that when he realized that he was drawing too easily with his right hand, he began to draw with his left hand. Drawing with the other hand forced him to see. Working in another format puts you in new conditions; it forces you to see in a different way. For example, I am doing an experiment for my new project about Mexicoâ€™s rivers: I put rolls of film in the water, and I leave them there for a good while so that something will happen to them, so that the river participates in some way. I imagine that the water of each river, with its distinct chemical makeup and level of acidity, will provoke different results.
What would you say to the young photographers who are starting out now?
First of all, I would tell them what a Venezuelan musician friend once told me: â€śWhen we start talking about brands of flutes, we stop talking about music.â€ť When we talk about pixels and all the technical issues that you hear about, we stop talking about photography. The most important issue is the image and how it works. What I mean is that trying to say something meaningful through photography will remain as complicated as it ever was. You can have greater ease of use and a larger audience, if you want, but you see a lot of junk in that environment of immediacy. I would tell you to reflect on what you are doing and not rush to show your work. We celebrate the good ideas, but the mistakesâ€¦they weigh on you, you live your whole life with them.