Personalized license plates can be fun to decipher. Some are obvious and easy to figure out. Others take some time to creatively play with the combination of letters and numbers. Sometimes the phrase is really clever, and sometimes it’s a stretch. Often, there are multiple ways to read a single vanity plate. So what does it really mean? Is it creative expression, the desire to stand out, or is it a sign from the universe? These are questions that Eric Hackett explores in his artwork.
According to Hackett, it depends on how you choose to see it. Hackett started photo documenting vanity plates in 1998. He now has over 3,000 images of personalized license plates in his collection and has decided to create a book of the artwork he creates from the images.
It started with a conversation. Hackett met a girl on May 5, 1998. They started talking, and their conversation led to the topic of God. As they discussed, she told him she believed that God communicated to us in many ways, including through license plates. Hackett asked her what she meant by that, and she replied, ‘Well, sometimes if I have a question, I ask the universe. Then, I’ll think about it and notice a license plate with something that kind of gives an answer.’
“The next day, I do remember seeing something that totally coincided with what we were talking about, and I took a picture of it,” says Hackett.
Ever since that moment, Hackett started seeing personalized license plates, and it got him thinking.
“It just woke something up in me,” Hackett says. “I just want to show the world that there is this magic, really. Whether we are manifesting it, or it’s there for us to pick up on.”
His self-published book is now available and contains pages of his montaged images of license plates from various states. Before deciding to use the computer to create unique images from his photographs, Hackett filled a huge photo album with his snapshots that he would carry around with him so he could share it with people. His new book of images shows what these license plates say and mean to him but still allows room for interpretation. Hence the book title How You See It—derived from the license plate he came across: “HOWUCIT.”
“People from all walks—you don’t have to believe in this so-called universal magic—you can look at this as an art piece and just appreciate that these are license plates that people paid money for to put their message out there that they thought was important enough to share,” says Hackett. “And then I took a picture of it, and I turned it into another form of art.”
The montages have a decidedly new-age feel to them and often show the words in the license plates interacting with background images. All of the montages use Photoshop filters to alter the colors and textures of the images, giving them a certain atmosphere. Some of the pages create certain juxtapositions out of the license plates so they read as sentences. How You See It focuses on themes of spirituality, love, mystery and connection.
Hackett also creates custom wall pieces out of his license plate images and has plans to create apparel.
His book ends with an image of a license plate that reads: “ICYUCIT.”
“It is how you see it,” says Hackett. “Now, I see it my way, but other people look at certain license plates, and they’ll see something else. You don’t have to be religious. You don’t have to be spiritual. You can just be an appreciator of life, and it’s an interesting topic to talk about.”