Martin Schoeller’s photography series Identical highlights the subtle similarities and differences in twins.

Marta Croll-Baehre and Emma Croll-Baehre, born in 1996. The sisters both aspire to become opera singers, and both draw. But whereas Marta draws portraits, Emma leans towards subjects like nature.

The more adult subjects’ faces become testaments to their habitats, instead of just genes.

Carries Steeves, Jennie Thornhill, Mary Jacques, and Patty Steeves, born in 1982.

Schoeller met his most identical subjects at the annual Twins Day Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio. There, more siblings are dressed and styled like one another.

Nate Mueller and Kirk Mueller, born in 1984.

During the time he spent photographing more subjects, Schoeller also met twins who are transgender.

Aidan Key and Brenda Bowers, born in 1964. Aiden Key was born Bonnie Bowers.

Breanna Ginley and Adalynn Ginley, born in 2006.

Jonas Allooh, Moses Allooh, and Noah Allooh, born in 1985.

Schoeller had to do some research to find identical sets of quadruplets, an occurrence so rare that the odds are only one in 13 million.

Keith Furtick, Victor Furtick, Jason Furtick, and Kevin Furtick, born in 1990.

Ellen Starr and Helen Underwood, born in 1942.

Jordan Timotiwu and Jason Timotiwu, born in 1994.

Schoeller strived to create a neutral setting, and encourage relaxed portraits for the subjects. Even in a controlled environment, some siblings still have very different facial expressions.

Jean Moyer and June Davis, born in 1939.

Marilyn Elder and Carolyn Bridges, born in 1944.

Katie Parks and Sarah Parks, born in 2001.

McKenzie Burns and Sidney Jackson, born in 1991.

Richard Bowen and David Bowen, born in 1957.

Co.Design

Do These Identical Twins Look The Same To You?

Martin Schoeller has spent two years photographing subjects who share almost everything. In the process, he’s revealed their differences.

The midcentury American photographer Diane Arbus photographed people who lived on the fringes of society: dwarfs, giants, transvestites, nudists. Her black-and-white portraits are famously unsettling and beautiful, and allow for a kind of pre-Internet voyeurism. Yet, her most iconic photograph isn’t of circus folk or marginalized people. It’s of two twin girls. Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967 captures two grade- school-aged girls with dark hair and dark matching frocks.

Which is exactly why, when National Geographic asked photographer Martin Schoeller to shoot twins for the magazine, it prompted a groan. “I said, ‘Oh my god, twins, really?’ “ Schoeller tells Co.Design. “It’s like the most obvious thing in photography. Right after sunsets comes twins.”

But Schoeller accepted the assignment, and headed to Twinsburg, Ohio, for the annual Twins Day Festival. Despite the seeming cliché, the work grew on him. “You think of twins as the same person, but in two different bodies,” he says. But Schoeller found that photographing them as individuals, and then comparing the two images side by side--as opposed to photographing twins together in one shot--told more stories about their shared histories than he imagined.

To accomplish this, he took each photograph in a strictly controlled environment--with the same angle, lighting, and blank piece of paper in the background. And facial expressions had to go--Schoeller wanted total neutrality to capture the most telling images. Fortunately, Schoeller’s body of work has more than adequately prepared him for the challenge. The photographer has shot celebrities, such as Bill Clinton, Mark Zuckerberg, and Angelina Jolie, in the same dead-on portraiture. The straightforward, straight-faced images tend to be more revealing than more attitude-laced photos. That’s because there’s nowhere to hide: Facial lines and asymmetries all come to light.

For the twins (or the triplets and quadruplets), the photographs show lives lived in unison and lives that diverge. “You can see how, when you’re born a couple hours or more later, life choices play out,” says Schoeller. “One person’s been smoking, or one is married with kids and the other is living a party lifestyle. Some are more at ease, some are more nervous. So even if they look much alike, you can distinguish personalities.”

The work intrigued Schoeller enough to take him back to Twinsburg for the festival again in 2012, and to travel from New York to Seattle, Florida, and Canada (twice--apparently there are lots of twins in Canada). He tracked down identical quadruplets--an extremely rare group, given that the chance of giving birth to identical quadruplets is one in 13 million. He met transgender twins along the way, as well as twins who loved having a twin and twins who didn’t. “There’s always the question of comparison,” Schoeller says. “On one hand you’re born with your best friend for life, and on the other hand it’s a curse.”

See all 40 sets of portraits in Schoeller’s book, Identical: Portraits of Twins.

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5 Comments

  • Gabriela Fonseca

    I think the interesting thing about the twins' pictures is you get to see how alike and how different they look, and that gets your mind reeling like crazy.

  • cassette_walkman

    It often happens - the projects you initially roll your eyes at, will turn out the best and most interesting.

    Ans I love the approach of presenting the studies in a format that is apparently straight, common and 'standardised'. It allows the subtleties and nuances to emerge. Let the frills emerge by themselves, don't apply them via technique or 'wowing'. Beautiful.

  • Amanda

    What a cool project. I really love seeing the older twins and how their faces have aged differently. Fascinating...