Diane Arbus’s photograph of two young girls standing shoulder-to-shoulder, wearing matching dresses and mis-matched expressions, is perhaps the most famous photograph of twins ever taken.
One twin wears a slight smile, the other adopts a more cynical frown. One happy, one sad. Two sides of the same person. A yin and yang. Arbus’s biographer Patricia Bosworth said this single image summed up what Arbus found most fascinating about people – the question of identity. She said: “Who am I and who are you? The twin image expresses the crux of that vision: normality in freakishness and the freakishness in normality.”
Arbus was said to have been afraid she would be known “simply as ‘the photographer of freaks'”. As her other work included the intriguingly named ‘Nudist lady with swan sunglasses’, and ‘A Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents in The Bronx’ I guess you can’t really blame the girl for thinking that.
But I digress.
It is that notion of twins as freaks that also permeates Mary Ellen Mark’s famous work with multiples.
Mark set up a makeshift studio at the Twinsberg festival in Ohio – at a place and time when twins set out to celebrate their likeness – with the aim, like so many other photographers, of showing “not only how much twins are alike but the subtle qualities that make them different”. It has a freakshow element to it that is both fascinating yet repulsive. And like Arbus, Mark has made a name for herself photographing the bizarre, putting identical twins firmly in that camp.
More recently, Martin Schoeller’s series A Thing Or Two About Twins – featured in last month’s National Geographic – had similar aims. His mug-shot style portraits of twins placed side-by-side offer an almost a forensic examination of the twins physical differences and similarities, inviting the viewer to flick from one image to the other… and back again. You very quickly notice differences in the shape of a nose, or the curve of a cheek. Identical, yes, but certainly not the same.
The most touching twin work I’ve seen is by Swedish-born photographer Maja Daniels whose ongoing series Monette and Mady (below) seems to be all over the place at the moment. The Parisian twin dress alike, finish each other’s sentences and, according to Daniels, refer to themselves as “I” instead of “we”. With their identical red hair and distinctive vintage style, the sisters make fascinating subjects in the posed shots, but it’s their intimacy in Daniel’s candid work that makes the series utterly mesmerising. As a viewer I feel I am imposing in their private world as they go about their day-to-day lives wrapped up in their symbiotic existence. As individuals they appear vulnerable; together they seem invincible.
So it is with some trepidation I find myself embarking on my own twin project. As an identical twin myself I like to think I’m approaching the subject from a slightly different perspective to those mentioned above. There are, to continue the theme, some similarites and some differences. While I’m also interested in the physical traits twins share, for me it is more about identity and the emotional side of being one half of pair. The constant battle between wanting to be alike, yet craving an identity separate from your real-life clone. And like many twins, I hate being compared to my sister. Pulling together these strands for my concept is something I have been thinking about for a while and I’m happy to have eventually started putting it all together. I’m on the hunt for twins of all ages and backgrounds to take part so please get in touch if you would like to find out more.