Dr. David Teplica has a black-and-white photograph on his studio wall of what looks like a humanoid creature struggling to escape a cloth web. “This is a straight young man who’s just entering the dating world and kind of scared. I took him to Hugh Hefner’s bedroom, which I consider the birthplace of the modern sexual revolution. I isolated him inside the fabric and photographed him all alone in the big empty black space.”

In another photo, two writhing ghostly figures are trying to embrace. This, Teplica says, is a young Highland Park couple engaged to be married; they’re concerned about bringing their sexual histories into the relationship but afraid to be tested for HIV. With webbed fingers they reach out for each other, but the cloth that encases them is a barrier to their embrace.

Teplica has 30 such photographs touring the country in an exhibition he calls “Rapture” (he hopes the show will come to Chicago sometime next year). He says the photos deal with “emotional and psychological isolation, fear and loneliness, disease and love.” A Lincoln Park plastic surgeon who also holds an MFA in photography, Teplica started about three years ago to experiment with surgical cloth, a seamless tubular fabric used to treat burn patients. He believes that not knowing whether his subjects are black or white, straight or gay, or man or woman gives the photos a stronger impact–that viewers are seduced into seeing themselves in the fabric.

Teplica was inspired to do the “Rapture” series by the loss of several friends to AIDS. Most of his models are friends who are struggling with their fears of intimacy. One couple traveled from New York City to model for him after hearing of his work. “They wanted to do something that expressed their terror of getting tested for HIV. The woman had unprotected sex with several bisexual male partners prior to becoming involved with this man and they both feared she was positive. They wanted to do a picture with me that expressed their pain and the barrier it created between them. It was really quite sad, because it was obvious that they were deeply in love.

“Quite soon after I shot them I found out that they broke up.”

–Derrick Mathis

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of David Teplica by J.B. Spector; photo by David Teplica courtesy of The Collected Image, Evanston.