Interview with Saulo Cisneros


How did you initially get interested in photography?

I got interested in photography around 1998, when I lived for a short period of time in Guanajuato, México. I borrowed a camera from a friend and ended up losing that roll of film, then I borrowed a point and shoot and still have some of those images. When I came back to Tijuana in 1999 I got a Canon Rebel film camera from my aunt, and took pictures up until 2002, when I got a video camera and started making videos in addition to still photography.


You were born in Mexicali and raised in Tijuana, which is a city that’s unfamiliar to many people north of the border. How would you characterize the photography community / scene in TJ?

To be honest, I disconnected myself from a large part of what is considered the photography-Art community / scene in Tijuana. I respect and admire people that are pushing the boundaries individually or organizing groups or events, but I don't really like to get involved in a scene per se as I think some people try to hard to show that they are making photographs, and I feel that photography is a fragment of a very personal way of seeing. It's not about the camera, it is not about reproducing what the eyes see, as that should be evident. I think that it is more about representing in an image what the being perceives or wants to tell without the need of a caption or an explanation. That is why I admire some lone wolves, that are working on their own style, as crude as it may sound, I respect that.


How do Mexican citizens view border cities like Tijuana? Does the culture of these spaces factor into the national identity in ways U.S. citizens are not aware of?

Mexico is an extremely centralized country, with important decisions being made on a Federal level in the nation's capitol, Mexico City, which is located 1700 miles from this border. Tijuana is the farthest city from Mexico City, in any direction, it is also one of the cities with more economic growth and cash flow in Mexico as it is located at a stone's throw from one of the richest states in the U.S. All of these factors tend to make Tijuana a strong and independent city, with its own identity and cultural expressions. It is a new, aggressive, fast growing and fast changing city. So, if you come from the U.S. into Tijuana, you think you get a glimpse of Mexico, but as soon as you travel down south, you will see that the rest of Mexico is not like this, and the same goes when traveling up north, to the U.S. When you arrive in Tijuana from the south, you may think that you have an idea of how life in the U.S will be, but as soon as you cross the border, you find out that it's not like Tijuana at all.


How does the art and photography culture in San Diego affect Tijuana, and vice versa?

I think that the opportunities of having the First and Third World as neighbors opens up a lot of possibilities for both cities to benefit from each other:


Tijuana as a chaotic, vibrant, disorganized, and fertile space for art production. A space where multicultural expressions aren't constrained by time, age-old last names, or political correctness—it is an aquarium where a lot of ideas are born, and grow to some extent. But due to its chaotic nature they won't be able to have a sustained growth and evolution as can be expected in other parts of the world.


San Diego is a conservative city, with funds that support an appropriate infrastructure, and a sense of order and security where the rule of law is respected, in contrast with Tijuana.


So the artists from San Diego can feed on the calm in San Diego or from the chaos in Tijuana and vice versa. The same thing goes for exhibitions, where you can take art from this chaotic space and show it out of its own context (in San Diego) and it will begin to show its vibrancy.



Your work with photography shows us a view of Tijuana that feels like a more honest view of the city, and at times a more mysterious one. Are there specific artists who have influenced your work with the urban / social landscape?

At first I just started making images of what I felt, "going by a feeling", but then I started researching, and as with everything, I began to find images that spoke to me and even felt very similar. I think that the kind of images I make could be classified as social landscape, which are somewhere in the middle between urban landscape and street phtography.


Stephen Shore is an artist that I discovered later on, who transmits something that I'm looking to transmit, but in a different manner. Alex Webb and David Alan Harvey integrate life into their images in a way that I feel connected with.


If, by some of their images you get a sense of Americana, I am trying to observe and project a sense Mexicana.


What is special about shooting film that keeps you connected to that medium over digital?

I like to feel, I like to observe and think, sometimes I enjoy a good dare.

I shoot film, 35mm and medium format, for a lot of reasons. In no specific order, I shoot film because of:


Archival purposes: I shoot then develop and archive in dated sleeves, so I (or someone else) will have access to the original image, made by the original rays of light, to digitize or extract in any way devised in the near or far future.


Texture: I know how film reacts. If I expose correctly, over or under expose I know how it will react, not exactly, but very close. Depending on the film and exposure you can achieve grain, textures, color shifts, tone compression, pastels, organic multiple exposures, etc. And I take pleasure in visualizing before shooting.


Non-immediacy: I shoot one image. If I'm not sure, I'll bracket and shoot one or two more (no one will ever die because I didn't make THE image). I won't ever be able to check the actual image in advance (although I can digitally proof). It's a lot about observing, thinking and calculating.


Your work moves fluidly between black and white and color. How do you use these as unique media, or are choices made based on specific images?

I choose the media and then make the images with the media that I'm carrying. I do not stage my images, mostly I stumble or pass by some potentially interesting scenes and I shoot with what I have with me.


Sometimes I carry both kinds of negative film, but it is mostly color.


How do you see photography and art evolving in Tijuana, and do you have advice on what Americans should keep an eye out for?

In general I see Art and Photography in Tijuana as a finite upward spiral, like a small spring: It starts at some point close to the ground, it moves up and in circles, walking over the same things previous generations tried or did. When it gets to its highest point people need to go away from Tijuana to grow and push their careers to the next level, those who don't go, grow old and start over again in a new cycle. Although younger people often ignore or disregard what previous generations did, thinking that they will change the Art world or thinking that they are geniuses and will start walking up the spiral.