Date
13 August 2021
Reading Time
6 minute read
Tags

A tale of twins: A changing relationship as told through photography

Using photography as a tool to reconnect with his identical twin brother after years living separately, London-based photographer Greg Lin Jiaje’s Longyan Boys touches on issues of family, identity and the age-old nature versus nurture debate.

Share

Date
13 August 2021
Reading Time
6 minute read

Share

Heritability is the measure of how differences in people’s genes account for differences in their traits. For identical twins or monozygotic twins (two people who share the same genes) heritability is more complex. If identical twins choose to work in different industries, for example, it suggests their interests are developed through nurture rather than nature. To take this one step further, if an identical twin possesses creative traits, does it mean the other must-do too?

GalleryGreg Lin Jiajie: Longyan Boys (Copyright © Greg Lin Jiajie, 2021)

GalleryGreg Lin Jiajie: Longyan Boys (Copyright © Greg Lin Jiajie, 2021)

Since 2018, photographer Greg Lin Jiajie has documented his identical twin brother and himself. Up until the age of 16, the two brothers had relatively similar experiences growing up in the city of Longyan, located in China’s southeastern Fujian province, known for its vast mountains and coastal cities facing the island of Taiwan. At 16, Greg journeyed solo to New Zealand to study, a moment he describes as “a turning point” for himself and his twin Jia Hao, who remained in Longyan. For the first time, he had the opportunity “to be my own person, not somebody’s twin”. But whether this initial feeling of freedom would last is another question. And how would the teenage separation impact Greg’s rise as an acclaimed photographer while Jia Hao remained in Longyan, working in the family business?

Titled Longyan Boys, Greg’s ongoing series acts as a record of time. It traces a deep-rooted twinship through an intimate lens that is aptly familial, set against the memory-rich backdrop of their rural hometown. The series started out in 2018 when Greg was finding his feet as a fresh graduate while Jia Hao continued to work for the family company in Longyan. It started with a feeling “that being a twin doesn’t make you half a person;” that “I had forged my own identity,” he explains. “I wasn’t scared of being ‘one of the two’ anymore.” After years of separation, Greg found the independence he’d sought like many other young twins constantly compared to the other.

Above

Greg Lin Jiajie: Longyan Boys (Copyright © Greg Lin Jiajie, 2021)

“At one point there wasn’t any communication between us,” says Greg looking back, “I realised I didn’t know him anymore, there were friends around him that knew him better than I do.” In an attempt to reconnect, Longyan Boys is an ongoing coming-of-age story weaving between Greg and Jia Hao’s perspectives as both one set of twins and two individual bodies. Loaded with symbolic undertones which dig into the twins’ similarities and differences, the project “is a story of us growing up – growing older,” Greg tells me, but it is also a story of two biologically identical brothers reconnecting after craving independence.

Greg’s photography speaks for itself when it comes to technical ability. It’s a creative prowess that has seen Greg work with the likes of Vogue, Dazed, GQ, Gucci, Calvin Klein and Paul Smith, just to name a few. Known for his emotionally astute approach to the medium, the London-based artist’s work takes on a new and elevated dimension in Longyan Boys. Unlike commercial editorials where the brand’s vision comes first, Longyan Boys unravels a deeper story that comes naturally with turning the camera on oneself and yet another who possesses identical physical traits but who has a wholly different experience under the surface.

Above

Greg Lin Jiajie: Longyan Boys (Copyright © Greg Lin Jiajie, 2021)

GalleryGreg Lin Jiajie: Longyan Boys (Copyright © Greg Lin Jiajie, 2021)

GalleryGreg Lin Jiajie: Longyan Boys (Copyright © Greg Lin Jiajie, 2021)

According to a 2016 study on the heritability of working in a creative profession, there is a 0.68 per cent chance that if one identical twin has a creative career, the other will too. That’s not to say that the other doesn’t possess creative traits, but the attribute is harder to measure statistically. While creativity is defined as “the tendency to generate or recognise ideas, alternatives or possibilities” in the study – qualities which are subject to a broad interpretation – Greg and Jia Hao’s case supports the notion that if identical twins have differing experiences (in this case so vast it spans continents) the likelihood is, creativity may well be imbued through nurture.

When it comes to the twins’ similarities and differences, Greg points out how “we are both very sentimental and family-oriented,” and that they are both “quite guarded.” Greg expands: “It usually takes a while to get to know us but when you do, we tend to keep you close.” On the other hand, Greg thinks he is more adventurous than his brother. He speaks his mind more while in Jia Hao’s case, it’s hard to gauge how he is truly feeling. What’s interesting is the viewer can see subtle flecks of this difference throughout Longyan Boys. As the series progresses from 2018 onwards, at first, we only see the striking physical resemblances between the twins; the same slope of the shoulder rippling through each posture, a minute tilt of the head rolled towards the same angle, a gait organically stipulated by the same sets of genes.

As the series progresses from year to year, the viewer becomes accustomed to the two familiar faces and in turn, the series transforms from a study of biologically identical twins shot amidst immaculately clear light and crisp focal aperture, to a series about subtle character differences and how these may change over time. Not only do we witness a change in the physical experience of the two subjects but also in Greg’s artistry as a photographer. In the latest edition of Longyan Boys for instance, he introduces more context to the relationship of him and his brother. The environment, the time of day, the careful curation of poses; each composition bears a symbolic whisper relating to the twins’ relationship.

The photographic range of works follows a fairly traditional narrative arc. The first series, originally published by i-D, acts as an introduction to the two protagonists. Greg describes it as “very straightforward and fairly staged;” “simple and cooke-cutter” with the majority of shots depicting the twins head on in a typical character profile. Series two however, the latest edition of the story taken earlier this year, is more spontaneous. “I tried to capture how we were in that particular environment,” says Greg. Touring locations from their childhood, he records the moment with an unforced ease. And though the photographs are undeniably mature – with a worldly point of view and cinematic technique – the images possess a childlike nostalgia. From the freshly laundered matching outfits to the photograph of the twins jumping into a cool lake, these moments take us back to the innocence of childhood summers and sibling playtimes. Greg’s photography is palpably visceral, the emotion is singularly present and captured with care.

For Greg, the photographs are grounded in a more personal linchpin. He recalls: “We didn’t really have the typical twin brother relationships anymore, so I started thinking ‘how do I repair that?’. Documenting pictures of us was a way to mend some of those fences.” As is customary, childhood is largely documented whereas adulthood less. And while Greg leapt at the opportunity to cement himself and Jia Hao in print, he also wanted “to use this project as a tool or an excuse to spend time with him and try to connect and get to know him all over again.”

In this way, he wasn’t trying to capture anything in particular but what they were feeling at the time; and that includes the far from picturesque moments too. “After series one, I thought our relationship had drastically improved,” says Greg, “so for series two, my plan was to show how we’d become friends again.” But like all relationships, there’s always a bump in the road and Greg’s plans didn’t go quite to plan. After all “we’re brothers,” says Greg, and “brothers fight!” Just like Jia Hao and Greg or any other relationship in life, it doesn’t just change overnight, “it needs time to grow and that’s where we are right now,” the photographer finally goes on to say. “I didn’t get the perfect relationship I was hoping to capture, instead I got to show the distance between us. How we’ll always be similar but different. I just wanted to capture that, and decided to keep that. I wanted to stay true to who we are.”

Above

Greg Lin Jiajie: Longyan Boys (Copyright © Greg Lin Jiajie, 2021)

Above

Greg Lin Jiajie: Longyan Boys (Copyright © Greg Lin Jiajie, 2021)

Above

Greg Lin Jiajie: Longyan Boys (Copyright © Greg Lin Jiajie, 2021)

Hero Header

Greg Lin Jiajie: Longyan Boys (Copyright © Greg Lin Jiajie, 2021)

Share Article

About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.

jo@itsnicethat.com

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.