Two of a kind

This is the first of a series of articles that I will publish based on my approach and experiences in Street Photography. As the genre is vast and has no set rules and boundaries, it is easier to look at one’s own work and that of selected renowned photographers and decide if there are nonetheless certain recurrent concepts and themes that influence what we instinctively look for when we take to the streets.

Diane Arbus’s picture of identical twins in New Jersey in 1967 has rightly become an iconic image. It has the hallmarks of her style- the direct look into camera, the closeness to the subject, the simple and powerful sense of composition. It is visually arresting-one can’t help but be slightly hypnotized by the force of this image. We are drawn into the photo by the fact that these two girls are so incredibly alike, not only in the way they look and dress, but in the way they stand and hold themselves. Yet there are also subtle differences. It is this tension between the similarities and the dissimilarities that is striking. Arbus’s work is celebrated for the way it makes the viewer feel awkward and uncomfortable- there is empathy and cruelty, tragedy and comedy, mixed together in one single frame. The two women photographed in matching swimming costumes at Coney Island is another perfect case in point.

Coney Island, © Diane Arbus 1967

Identical Twins, New Jersey, © Diane Arbus 1967

While not directly continuing where Arbus left off, it is true to say that consciously or not, my eye is often attracted by what I would call this “game of pairs”. There is a certain fascination in capturing two people together  who are dressed alike, who move in a similar way, or who are simply holding identical objects. I would in no way claim that my street photos have the same depth and intensity of Arbus’s subjects- it is more a question of capturing with a gentle sense of humour those scenes where for a brief moment the world appears as a sort of mirror image. From a photographic viewpoint, these type of images are pleasing on the eye as they seem to depict a certain unity, often associated with ideas of symmetry. In a city environment in constant flux, the camera succeeds in focussing on simple repetitions that convey a feeling of balance and order.

Here are a few examples of this theme, taken on the streets of my local town Nantes.

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