Photographer Maja Daniels has been documenting the synchronized lives of identical twins, Monette and Mady against the backdrop of the streets of Paris.
This work is part of an ongoing effort by Maja to visually represent older generations which won her the Contour by Getty Images Portrait Prize 2013.
What attracts me to photography is its capacity to tell stories and I believe that in order to tell a good story, access is of the essence. I often work on long term projects which allow me to develop relationships with my subjects over time.
Since I started taking pictures and thinking of them as stories, I have been interested in focusing on contemporary issues related to the limitations of the body. The idea of a ‘failing’ body is something that we in the west don’t seem to be able to accept. Disease, ageing and dying thus represent big taboos.
Quirky and beautiful
Through my interest in documenting and commenting on the contemporary western world, I started considering the general lack of visual representations of issues related to older generations. As I found myself in this process, I met Mady and Monette.
Monette and Mady are identical twins. They have lived their whole life closely together and are, as they say, inseparable.
I first saw them on the streets of Paris and I was instantly fascinated by their identical outfits and synchronized corporal language. Quirky and beautiful, they stood out from any crowd.
As I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, I remember thinking that they might not be real.
When I approached them I was not surprised to discover that they often finish each other’s sentences and that they refer to themselves as “I” instead of “we”.
Neither Mady nor Monette have married or had children and they always eat the same kind of food in identical portions.
Monette and Mady do not just share a close relationship as sisters; as a couple they act, model and dance together and the city of Paris is their main stage. If they ever go out dressed in different outfits, people stop and ask why they argue.
Eccentric, yet private
Since a great part of Mady and Monette’s lives is about performing, in front of cameras or on a stage as well as on the street, this project consists of a mix of staged and documentary images. The more staged photographs are alternated with pictures of the sisters interacting naturally as they go about their daily business.
Since Mady and Monette are both eccentric yet very private people, this combination reflects their lives, particularly since it is not always obvious to tell the two approaches apart.
Additionally, this inclusion of fiction makes for a dreamy atmosphere, a bit like a mirage that reflects my initial impression of them.
The streets of Paris make the perfect backdrop for such ambiguity to be played out, confusing us with its references to fashion, film and art. It makes the documenting of everyday events somewhat surreal.
Being born as an identical twin often raises questions about identity and intimacy. Most people search for a partner to share their life with and a big part of our identity is built around this relationship.
The same person twice
As we are confronted with the radically unique and viscerally embodied relationship of Mady and Monette, we are faced with feelings of fascination but also with distrust. This project operates in this borderland. As we enter the game orchestrated by the sisters, this series attempts to play with notions of identity as we ask ourselves the question “is that the same person twice?”.
Mady and Monette are indifferent to the many stereotypes that are related to aging. They have in fact long stopped celebrating their birthdays and they defy any pre-conceived notions related to growing old. This series is an intimate journal of their togetherness and as an alternative take on the complex issues that accompanies the notion of “aging” today. I aim to pursue this series over the years, as Mady and Monette grow older.
I have now known and worked with Mady and Monette for three years and as time goes by I am increasingly excited about the privilege of having gained their trust to develop this project further.
As they receive comments on the streets about how strange it is for them “to still be twins at their age” or when somebody asks if they are “playing twins”, I feel happy to be able to extend the reach of the beautiful, alternative existence that they have embraced beyond the city of Paris.
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About Maja Daniels
Maja Daniels’ photographic work focuses on human relations in a Western, contemporary environment. Having studied journalism, photography and sociology, she uses sociology as a frame of research and approach to her self-initiated long-term personal projects. She is particularly interested in issues that relate to the body and its association with notions like ‘self’ and ‘identity’.
She is the recipient of numerous awards, such as the 2011 Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize and the 2012 Sony World Photography awards. She was a participant in the 2012 World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass and she was recently nominated for the 2013 Prix Pictet.
Daniels’ photographs have been included in exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts (London), The Photographers Gallery (London), The National Portrait Gallery (London), Somerset House (London), Belfast Exposed (Belfast) and Getxophoto (Bilbao). In 2013 she had her first solo exhibition at Galerie Polka in Paris. She has received bursaries to develop personal projects by the John Kobal Foundation (UK) and the Arts Council (UK).
She is regularly commissioned by the weekly and monthly press (including New York Magazine, The Guardian Weekend, FT Magazine, Le Monde Magazine) and frequently invited by schools, independent organizations and galleries to talk about her work and her approach to photography. She also collaborates with social scientists, using photography as a tool within academic research.