October 29, 2019
We’ve all experienced it in some way before—either as the person who learns that he or she has a “double” somewhere in the same city; or as the one who mistakes a stranger on the street for a friend or family member. “OMG! I saw your doppelgänger today.” Or, “You look exactly like this friend of mine.”
It is intriguing to think that we may not be unique. After all, how much could someone you’ve never met really resemble you, right?!
Canadian photographer François Brunelle, who has been compared by his friends to comedic actor Rowan Atkinson—most famously known as Mr. Bean—spent 12 years tracking down real-life doppelgängers—individuals who are not related, but could pass for identical twins—and photographing them. His project is called the I’m Not a Look-Alike series.
A student of the human face since his early days as a photographer in 1968, Brunelle’s work reflects his fascination with “the resemblance between look-alikes” and his “ongoing effort to capture the elusive human soul.”
The project began with people that he knew, the news outlet says. Friends first made suggestions of people who looked eerily alike, and then word spread, leading to people he didn’t know reaching out. Eventually, Brunelle set up a website which, after it was featured in the media, resulted in thousands upon thousands of submissions pouring into the artist’s inbox from people who claim to know two people who could pass as doppelgängers.
“I received a letter from a guy who met [his] look-alike one day on the beach,” Brunelle told The Daily Beast of one of his submissions. “They became friends, but the other person lives on the other side of the world.”
Setting the stage for the shoots is quite simple. Brunelle gives his subjects few instructions other than to come dressed in plain, solid-colored clothing void of graphics and labels. His goal is to have as little a hand as possible in conveying their resemblance.
The original goal was 200 pairs of doppelgängers, a number that he already has exceeded, the news outlet reports. His results are extraordinary—but what is even more astonishing is the parallel lives that many of them lead.
The Daily Beast relates the story of how, in 2004, Brunelle was introduced to two women through a mutual friend. Nina Singh and Anna Rubin were born in separate cities and raised by completely different biological parents hours apart from each other. The birthday that they share, just hours apart, is only the beginning in a long string of similarities—both of the women moved to Montreal to study dance, they have similar tattoos from the same tattoo parlor, and they unknowingly lived in the same apartment complex.
In another instance of eerie similarity, two Canadian men—one who works in advertising, the other as a popular television sports anchor—were brought together after years of being mistaken for each other. “The advertising guy would go out to restaurants and would be asked for his autograph all the time,” Brunelle says. “But he would have to explain that he wasn’t who they thought he was. People still didn’t believe him!”
When the two men finally met face-to-face, their baldness and fondness for facial hair wasn’t the only thing they had in common. Turns out, both men are married to women named Francine and have sons of similar ages.
Through Brunelle’s project, they were finally able to meet each other, and have since become close pals, The Daily Beast reports. “These people, they became friends and now they go out together with their wives and have a good time. They are like family now,” Brunelle says.
When presented with Brunelle’s photos, it’s shocking how identical the pairs seem to be. It is only upon closer inspection that the eye stops comparing the similarities between the two, and starts to decipher the differences, which Brunelle finds the most fascinating.
“I realized what’s interesting about the photos,” he said, “is not that they look exactly alike, it’s the fact that they don’t.” The mind starts to pick up on subtle differences. The nose, mouth, eyes, and ears, something is always different, but there is still a bizarre similarity. “If they looked completely identical, that would just be boring.”
Research contact: @thedailybeast