IN Magazine, February 2000

Ed.’s Face Place

by Nicholas Caron

What do L.A. Eyeworks’ owner Gai Gherardi, model Jenny Shimizu, and performance artist John Fleck have in common? They were all shot, cut and pasted together with their lovers in a brilliant series of photographs on same sex couples by artist Ed de la Torre. What started as a fun experiment with a pair of scissors for the Los Angeles photographer has become a piece of conceptual art that celebrities and civilians are clamoring to join.

“Eyes in the Same Direction” is on-going series of photographs of gay and lesbian couples that will be featured in every new issue of this magazine. De la Torre’s concept is disarmingly simple: he snaps the pictures, slices them evenly down the middle, and collates them. That is when the viewers step in. “People are fascinated,” says the photographer, “they ask, is this one person? Is this the same person on different days, or with makeup? Then they realize it’s a couple, but we complete the image in our brain. The art is definitely completed in people’s minds.” The most common reaction to the pictures seems to be how similar the two faces are, as if we were looking for a good reason for the picture to come together, but the artist has a different idea.

“A friend of mine calls it the subversive family values series” explains de la Torre, who’s 39 and partnered, “When I started showing these pictures to other people, they would get emotional. I realized that our [mainstream] culture doesn’t celebrate same sex couples and that was when I went on a mission.” He saw that his photographs commemorated the relationship between two people and that they chose each other. “The two of them make a third face, easy for heteros to do, they just make a kid, but that still isn’t possible for us at this time, this is the closest we’re going to get” he adds with a wry smile.

“We are raised thinking about love, looking into each other’s eyes for fairy tale perfection—that’s not very effective,” comments de la Torre, “these pictures are not meant to be 50-50, but 100% each, in the same direction.” A devoted Nichiren Buddhist for the past fifteen years, who chants twice a day, he explains that the title of the series comes from his practice. “Happiness comes from within, therefore I have to be there one hundred percent for somebody else and we have our eyes in the same direction, following a path together. I’m not expecting to be completed by him.” The pictures squarely face their audience and it’s for us to decide what we see in these relationships.

Featuring celebrities or not, (Christopher Landon, Michael’s son, just got his snapped), these pictures are not meant to look glamorous, another Buddhist influence. “They’re 4×6 ID pictures, they’re not fancy,” warns the photographer, “I’m very spontaneous. Very few people get to look in the mirror before I take the picture and there’s no touch up, no computer manipulation.” De la Torre, who has directed commercials for Bally’s Total Fitness as well as had his video installations shown in galleries from Paris to New York and L.A.’s MOCA, likes to talk about how he stumbled upon the concept. After looking over some bad snapshots of himself and his mate Tom Lockyer, taken, appropriately at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, he just cut and pasted them. “The result was interesting and disturbing. And then I realized it was about us. So I kept going,” he says.

“Maybe my next step should be to turn them into ID pictures for marriage licenses,” he adds, then giggles mischievously, “That could get me in trouble.” He doesn’t look too bothered after all. It must be some buddhist meditation trick.