There’s no arguing that identical twins are a fascinating quirk of the natural world. Given western society’s obsession with individuality, it’s perhaps unsurprising that we’re perturbed and challenged by the sight of two people who are physical facsimiles. Our fascination is compounded by the physical and mental unity that twins are rumoured to possess; as an isolated individual it’s hard to comprehend having a direct mental connection with any another being, much less one that looks identical to oneself.
Maja Daniels’ photographic series Monette and Mady, taps into this fascination with doubles, chronicling the lives of two ageing Parisian twins. Their day-to-day activities, though perfectly ordinary in theory, take on an entirely different dimension when undertaken by two identically-featured identically-dressed pensioners. So enthralled were we by the resulting images that we had to catch up with Maja to ask more.
How did you find the twins?
I used to see them on the streets and on Sundays at our local fruit and vegetable market in the neighbourhood where I used to live in Paris. I was instantly fascinated by their identical outfits and synchronised corporeal language. They always stood out from the crowd and I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. They were quirky and beautiful and I only ever saw them in passing, never interacting with someone or seated somewhere.
It took me a long time to approach them. Years actually. Their presence was brewing in the back of my mind while I was working on an Alzheimer’s project. That project made me increasingly aware of questions regarding ageing and the many stereotypes that are related to this. But Mady and Monette seemed completely indifferent to this in the playful way they carried themselves and stood out from the crowd. They didn’t seem to have an age.
When I finally approached them I found out that they had long stopped celebrating their birthdays and that they defy any pre-conceived notions related to growing old. I then thought that the twins could make an interesting project that could somehow comment on questions regarding ageing in today’s society a bit differently.
Do they naturally coordinate themselves or is that part of your input into the images?
No no, that is part of what they do. They are always completely synchronised in their ways. They have danced together since they were eight years old. They dance the waltz, the tango and contemporary jazz and as well as their physical coordination they often finish each other’s sentences and refer to themselves as “I” instead of “we”. They always eat the same food in the exact same portions and even follow the same daily routine.
What do they do when they’re not appearing in your photos?
Already familiar with acting and modelling – Monette and Mady have made appearances in French films such as Amelie de Montmartre and Paris Je T’Aime, danced in a George Michael video as well as posed for numerous adverts and art projects. They have worked with many big photographers and filmmakers such as Nick Knight, Bettina Rheims, Michael Thompson, Vee Spears and Jean Pierre Jeunet but it’s mainly for fashion and advertising. I guess that’s why my documentary approach came as a surprise to them.
Do you build up a relationship with your subjects when you’re photographing them or do you like to maintain a distance?
I think building a relationship that is based on trust is very important in the projects I shoot. Initially Mady and Monette didn’t quite understand why I was interested in documenting their everyday life. It turned out to be an interesting challenge for me to make them understand how fascinated I am by what seems so natural and mundane to them. Together we have entered a journey of getting to know each other and growing to trust each other. We are constantly negotiating what it is that we are doing together and although they enjoy the attention of being photographed, it took me a year to get them to agree to let me follow them a bit more intimately.
You took these photos in order to approach the subject of ageing. Why is this such an important issue to you?
I am fascinated by age and I think I have always been trying to resist rules related to age. I am also really interested in the concept of time and how this seems to rule our worlds.
All of my projects are rooted in and inspired by sociology. Since I am interested in documenting the western world it just so happened that I started considering the general lack of visual representations of issues related to older generations. This is obviously linked to our commercially driven, youth-obsessed culture; the breakdown of the family unit and so on. As much as these topics interest me, they also present me with challenges in how to make them visually appealing and original.
When taking on difficult subjects, a visually compelling image can lure you into taking a closer look and engage with the subject matter. Composition, colour and tone dictate my photography just as much as my dedication to the subject matter.