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Marta (left) and Emma. The 15-year-old sisters want to go to the same university and become opera singers. They both like to draw but have a different approach to their art. Marta depicts finely detailed faces, while Emma prefers more expansive images: the sky, the rain, objects in motion. (National Geographic)

The Photographic Fascination With Twins

by Claire O'Neill
Dec 26, 2011

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National Geographic When Loretta (left) was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, Lorraine was in the doctor's office with her. Loretta asked if Lorraine should be checked as well. The doctor discovered that Lorraine also had breast cancer. After receiving treatment, the sisters are both in good health. As infants, Ramon (left) and Eurides looked so much alike that their mother gave them name bracelets so she wouldn't get confused and feed the same child twice. Today at age 34, the twins are next-door neighbors in Florida, living in identical custom-built houses. A topic of family debate: Who has the fuller face? Ramon says it's Eurides. Eurides (and the mother) say it's Ramon.

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Claire O'Neill

One of the photos that made photographer Diane Arbus famous was Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967; it reverberated in The Shining and probably influenced Mary Ellen Mark's twin photos.

It goes without saying that twins long have fascinated photographers — as well as scientists. How is it that identical twins with virtually identical DNA can be so different? Conversely, how is it that identical twins separated at birth can still have so much in common? An article in National Geographic's January issue explores the focus of recent research: How a third factor, beyond nature and nurture, might have a vital role in making us who we are. The term is epigenetics and the article explains it best.

Photographer Martin Schoeller must have jumped at the chance to shoot the portraits for this story. Once you know his style, you'll start to recognize his photos on the covers of major magazines — or in museums. I saw his enormous portraits for the first time at the National Portrait Gallery a while back. He uses a huge camera with a depth of field so famously narrow that the eyes are in focus and the nose is not.

In Schoeller's portraits, eyes are like an open book. His portraits are studies of the face's physical topography, but also of our irrepressible emotions — how they translate to the twinkle of an eye or the wrinkle on a forehead.

It's fascinating to see his style in this context. How identical are identical twins? What do you think?

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