Eduardo Torres

Interview 015 • Aug 29th 2013


In his work and in my conversation with him Eduardo strikes me as a searcher, someone who – in both their art and their profession – is seeking the answers to questions he finds both significant and compelling. That through research, through teaching, through photography, he can eventually solve the puzzles that mesmerize him, that through these surprisingly similar disciplines he can understand. What’s wonderful about such a process is the beautiful work that’s created in the attempt.

This interview has been edited for clarity and content.


How did you get started with photography?

I had played around with a camera when I was in high school – which was a long time ago. I think a combination of an intense interest in mathematics, biology, programming, science, in addition to the advent of point and shoot cameras, made me not do photography for 10 years or so.

As soon as I finished my PhD, I started getting into it seriously again. It’s become more and more an obsession for these last three years. I think I’ve been doing it as a serious hobby.

What is it that brought you back?

I think it was having a little bit of extra time and freedom. Finishing my PhD studies put me in a very relaxed situation. I went from working 16 hours a day on my theories and mathematical analyses, to spending a good few months enjoying the free time to come up with new projects.

While I came up with some new science projects, I also began to fall in love with the process of shooting people. Also, I think coming to Bloomington helped. In London I was busy seeing other artists, but here we had to make the art happen ourselves. I was living in a co-op, and there were lots of artistic people around me. I felt more drive to create.

It’s a cycle after a while. You do one shoot seriously trying to get something beautiful out of it. Then you spend hours in the library and the Internet looking for the feeling of what you are trying to create. Then you get another model to try it again. And again, and again, and… it’s now three years later.

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

Jessica Endicott february, 2013

Do you find there’s an overlap between photography and your cognitive science work?

There may be. I do try to look for it but I don’t really worry about there being a link or not. The more and more I see what I do – and I see how I approach things – I notice the patterns.

I think in both situations I am trying to study what I find interesting in the beauty of complex systems. In both situations I am doing it very systematically, very repetitively, very minimally.

My hope is that in exploring both of those avenues of thought, I will learn more about myself – about the things that interest me. Not the other way around. There’s no highly conceptual underlying theme that I am wishing to explore deliberately.

My work in cognitive science is all to do with dynamical systems, which is very visual and geometrical. It’s very much a combination of creativity and visual geometric analysis.

So you’re more on the mathematical end of cognitive science.

Yes, absolutely. I do mathematical models of neurons and see them through time in graphs and in three-dimensional plots. I try to understand the patterns that arise from those complex dynamics, to see how they relate to actual behavior of the system.

I don’t deal with people – it’s all in the computer. It’s not even the nervous system of people that I study, it’s of a small model organisms.

Do you think working with these mathematical models all day, makes you want to engage with people more in your off-time?

Absolutely. That is one part of it.

My work can be very isolating. While I love the benefits that it brings, I think there will be things in there that will make an important difference 50 years from now. I also wanted to connect to the world a little bit more, in real time.

I think there’s more to it than just that, though. I used to be very shy around women growing up. I think I understand it now – it’s because I find them really beautiful. I put them on some sort of pedestal, and at the same time I really didn’t understand what it is that I liked. This has been a huge exploration of that for me. Really figuring out what I find beautiful, why I find it beautiful, and how I find it beautiful.

When I see photos of many women, I’ve not liked how they looked. So often I feel people look so much more beautiful in person. I still believe that today. So this has been my attempt at figuring out why that is.

I’ve found that in common with photographers who have more naturalistic styles. It’s very much a kind of investigation.

Yes. I can see that. I totally see as an investigation.

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

  1. Helen Mitchell January, 2012
  2. Clair Mattson February, 2013
  3. Aimee C. August, 2013

What do you look for in a subject?

I’m interested in lines and shapes, in expressions, in the subtle difference of the little details… freckles, eyes, lips – the type of skin.

I don’t think I look for it before the shoot. I look for it as I shoot. I’m interested in the way they are when they are intimate. Honestly intimate. Like with someone they love, that moment they give a loving look. I think I’m interested in knowing how they love, truly love…

How would one experience them visually if they were in love with you? I’m not entirely sure that that’s the case. But I think there may be some part of it that’s along those lines.

How do you go about eliciting that? Do you find it requires a lot of direction on your part?

I actually try to not direct the models. I’m still quite shy around them. I do tell them to not pose for me. I tell them to do whatever they want to get comfortable – to enjoy being there.

We talk about small things but I rarely tell them to adopt any one position or any one expression. I will sometimes ask them to imagine I’m their partner, to look at me honestly as if I were them. Lovingly.

But I doubt that works!

The best moments are when they are in their heads, thinking about whatever they are thinking, communicating that which I have no idea about with their eyes. That sometimes doesn’t work with some people, but that’s okay. I love it when it does work, when the person just goes off into their own world.

Do you try to guide the conversation in any way? Is the conversation important when shooting?

The whole interaction from the start is key. It is very much all about the process of getting to know each other, and becoming really comfortable around each other. It’s almost always a great chemistry from the start. And we do get to know each other as we go along, more and more.

I don’t think I have a plan about how I’m going to guide the conversation, but it definitely is important, and I’m happy for it to happen naturally. The conversation is honest and it guides the whole process.

Do you think this kind of process is something of an attempt to capture what you weren’t able to find when you were younger and more shy?

I think there may be parts of it that are related to that, in the sense that I am getting to study what it is that I find so intriguing and mysterious in them.

Sometimes it’s a lot more abstract than that. I want to see what expressions look like, and how they can be conveyed naturally and convincingly. I want to be able to look at a certain photograph and recognize a feeling, an emotion, that I’ve experienced before in intimacy. I don’t necessarily think I will ever actually achieve that, but I think that’s part of the drive too.

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

  1. Jordan Hebbe June, 2012
  2. Catherine and Stevie December, 2012

“The impossible quest,” one of our interviewees called it. What would you like people to take away from your photos? What do you want them to see?

This is a hard thing for me. I’m not entirely sure that I know. Bloomington is a small town, so people that I run into on the street are always very kind about my work. I’m always surprised to hear them talk about it – to hear the things they see.

I would be lying if I said I really thought in much depth about what they would make of it. I find it very daunting and intimidating. I often am even nervous to hear exactly what it is that they saw when they looked. I do this because I can’t help but do it. I really want to create something that speaks to the way I see beauty. But I don’t know that I want anything else out of anyone.

I think there are themes of naturalness, messiness, rawness, intimacy, and minimalism that I am inevitably putting forth. But I don’t think people necessarily see that always. And as I said before, I really don’t have a message with my photography. There’s nothing I’m trying to say to anyone. If anything, I would want the exploration to be the message itself.

I like the idea of each photograph speaking for itself, for whatever it is that it was, without a designer.

If you don’t think people see what you intend to show, what is it you think they see?

I guess I just haven’t really opened myself up to hear what people think of it – so, the truth is that I simply don’t know.

Maybe they do see it. Maybe my exploration does come through. My main point was that I don’t really think of my photography as the way in which others perceive it. I do it very much because I have to, regardless.

Do you feel you’ve got a handle on what you’re looking for, at this point? Where do you feel you’re headed, photographically?

I don’t think I’ve got a handle yet. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I have a handle on it. Everyday that I shoot I learn something new. Everyday that I sit through the contacts, selecting, and looking at things, I learn something new.

The photographs are still not where I would like them to be in my head. I have never yet been happy with any of them. It’s a moving post. I am constantly trying to figure out how to make it look like so that it will feel good. But I think this is what I feel like inside my head, perhaps if somebody is looking at it from the outside, it all looks similar, and it’s hard to tell what the changes are. But for me there’s been constant movement. Maybe the way I move is slow, gradually, with slow shifts. But each day there is something just a tiny bit different, a new exploration, whether it is with the composition, with the interaction with the model, with the light, with the selecting, with the colors.

I guess I’m not a big fan of “big stylistic shifts.” It’s not in me. I like the gradual, slow process. So in terms of the future, I’d like to make a genuine contribution to photography. I think the best way I can think of doing that is following my rhythm… minimally… slowly. I could see myself continuing to explore raw, natural, feminine beauty for a good while. I certainly don’t see myself as capable of figuring it out in my lifetime.

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

  1. Noelle Bockhorst January, 2013
  2. Katie Elaine Forrester August, 2012

Fortunately for us, there is no current shortage of interesting people out there.

Yes. Absolutely. I keep being surprised by the people I see. Every day when I’m walking around, 4, 5 times a day, I’m like gosh – I wish I could work with them.

Man, if I’d started photography back in college… I’d probably have a baby or two.

I might have to quote you on this to my partner. She’ll love it. I’ve realized more and more about the conversation. I think I find I’m less deliberate. For me, it’s a little subtler.

Looks. Eye contact. Expressions. The ways I place myself. But yes – it’s a conversation, an interaction.

I’m far more verbally manipulative, especially when I’m shooting someone for the first time. I put them through their paces, see what they’re capable of.

You know. Now that you say that, I have noticed a move in that direction. I even told my partner recently that. I now know how to ask for things a little bit more explicitly.

The more you know what you want, the more you work on getting it.

That is interesting and good to hear. I wonder whether there is something about the other way though. I’ve wondered whether when women notice I’m kind and quiet and friendly and warm, whether they open up to me in a way that they wouldn’t quite in the same way to someone more direct. It’s a question that I’ve had. And it’s part of the way I approach life, but I agree with you that it’s all in the interaction, whether subtle or direct.

My verbal patter has become a lot about making people comfortable.

Yes. And that’s the main meat of what I work with. They are mostly college students. Totally. Making people comfortable is also a huge if not the main part of my aim in the interaction.

It’s this verbal system aimed to disarm and create comfort; it’s very calculated. To the model it’s just a smooth conversation

That’s what it was tuned for – to be just that. It’s like getting a radio station. The more I tweak it, the better the signal.

I think even my shyness, and body movement, is well tuned and rehearsed now to obtain what I want. Part of it I’m sure is probably me thinking it’s rehearsed, when it’s in reality totally real. There are certainly still interactions that take me into new places. The models, for me, still take me in their own direction.

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

  1. Kelsey Knickerbocker March, 2013
  2. Catherine Bliss December, 2012

That’s the best, being surprised during a shoot.

Yes. Absolutely. I also think of it as, I’ve constrained things so much: the light, the environment, the room, the clothes, the lack of any props, that if I were to let them be 50-50 in this interaction, then we would end up with the same emotion over and over.

I’m happy to make room for them in our interaction. A lot of it, giving that I’m holding the camera, and it’s so asymmetric already.

I think of it as a sandbox. I build the sandbox, but it’s theirs to play with as they like. Try not to make the box too small, no room to move, or they flounder.

Yes. That is it. Great analogy. I agree with that. I’m okay to let things flounder sometimes, hoping that we may arrive somewhere. But your analogy is perfect. Because of that, I don’t always get what I want out of it, but most often I get something that I didn’t know I wanted.

Do you feel there’s a lot of experimentation during a shoot?

Absolutely. Other than the conditions that I’ve constrained the shoot with, it’s all very much experimentation. I’m very open to them doing their own thing. I encourage them to do what feels natural. That pushes me to see things differently

Or put in a different way, it’s only when we experiment that I feel satisfied in having learned something new, and that I feel the shoot did what I wanted it to do.

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

Ellen Grace November, 2012

Do you ever introduce elements to foster that kind of experimentation?

Completely. I think my half of the interaction is in the suggestions. Even how I position myself with the camera suggests something to them. I’ve even noticed how good subjects are at reading whether I like something or not, in my expressions through the camera. I think that’s all a huge part of how I’m stimulating the atmosphere. It is very subtle though.

Do you show your subjects the photos during the shoot?

Yes. I do. I like that part of it a lot too. I think we learn a lot from it. I do warn the people who haven’t been photographed often that what is great about good models is that they know not to get discouraged from bad photos – that getting one good one out of ten, fifty, or one hundred is the goal.

I love going through them with them. Telling them what I like. What I don’t like. I love pointing out the difference between a fake expression and a real expression. A fake hand positioned somewhere and a real hand doing an action. I like them telling me what they like and what they don’t too.

I think it’s a huge part of what brings us closer to, during the shoot. I would say that’s what consolidates the trust often.

I’ve definitely found that inviting them into the process, explaining why I don’t like certain things they’re doing or why I insist on certain things, makes ‘em feel more involved

That’s the time where I get to explain more of what I want, without actually directly directing them. That’s where we say “it’s the crazy abstract subtle movement and emotion that makes it feel good.”

Interview 015: Eduardo Torres for The Photographic Journal

Emily Parker
Ballerina at the jacob school of music.