A photographer travels the world to discover unrelated “doubles”

A photographer travels the world to discover unrelated “doubles”
A photographer travels the world to discover unrelated “doubles”

Does each person have their double in the world? François Brunelle, a Canadian photographer based in Montreal, has sought to answer this question since 1999, the year in which he began traveling to different countries with the aim of finding people who were unknown to each other, but who were physically identical.

It was no surprise for him to start finding these “doubles”, since he himself was always compared to the actor who plays Mr. Bean and, in addition, he experienced the meeting with one of his peers in a restaurant in Prague while sharing a dinner with friends and wanted to know if other people also had their double. Thus began the path of one of the most amazing projects that have been carried out in recent years: not only did he find them but he began a photographic documentation of those similarities and the result is shared in the project I’m Not a Look-Alike, started at the end of the last century. Almost 25 years after creating it, he brings together a collection of black and white portraits of approximately 250 couples in 32 cities around the world.

This idea of ​​the exact double does not belong to the photographer. A study carried out by researcher Teghan Lucas, who sought to put a halo of science on urban belief, concluded that we all have an exact double of ourselves somewhere in the world.

“There are genes involved in the size and shape of the face, others in eye color, others in hair… And the fact that there are many more cells that determine what our facial appearance will be like than those that influence, for example, in what the hand or legs will be like, is proof that our species tends toward diversity,” he says in his study.

“Although there are many, that amount that is involved in our physical appearance is limited. This means that although there are many possible combinations, in the end as the population increases the point is reached where one ends up repeating itself,” says Lucas, who explains that this probability increases the more similar the genes of two people are: “For That’s why our relatives are more like us than other people. And it will always be easier to find physical similarities between two people of Asian origin than between a Korean and a Norwegian.”

Researchers from the Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute in Barcelona revealed in the article Similar humans identified through facial recognition algorithms show genetic similarities, published in the journal Cell Reports, that the strong facial resemblance is associated with shared genetic variants.

“The human face is one of the most visible features of our unique identity as individuals. Interestingly, monozygotic twins share almost identical facial features and the same DNA sequence, but could present differences in other biometric parameters. The expansion of the world wide web and the ability to exchange photographs of humans across the planet has increased the number of people identified online as unrelated twins or virtual doubles. Here, we have characterized in detail a set of “similar” humans, defined by facial recognition algorithms, by their multi-omic landscape. We report that these individuals share similar genotypes and differ in their DNA methylation and microbiome landscape. These results not only provide information about the genetics that determine our face, but could also have implications for the establishment of other human anthropometric properties and even personality characteristics,” the study summarizes.


Brunelle’s more than 200 pieces testify to the strange phenomenon that is being investigated by science: why do people who are not related share such similar DNA and physical traits? This is what the Doppelgänger Theory refers to, whose German term defines the “ghostly double or evil shadow of a living person.” This is how the novelist Jean Paul gave it meaning in 1796, when he defined Doppeltgänger as “he who walks next to you.”

Since then, that word has been used to designate the “double of a person”, but meaning that other person as the “evil twin”. Thus, Doppelgänger were protagonists of literary works of science fiction and fantasy literature.

“I am fascinated by finding doubles in people,” admitted photographer Francois Brunelle to the British portal Daily Mail and said that since he was 18 he has been studying human faces. “The fact that two people with no relation to each other and sometimes born in different countries share the same physical appearance,” he said, the axis of his already recognized work that began in the United States, but which took him around the world, managing to become in an acclaimed international exhibition and in a book.

According to what he said, his objective is to explore the relationship that can be generated by the meeting of two people who do not know each other and who upon seeing each other discover that they are identical. To expand these possibilities, she asked that people who know they have their double write to her so she can portray them.

The photographs he takes of them are focused on the lighting and the angle of the people. It is precisely the black and white of the strange portraits that highlights the facial features. At the same time, he uses that technique to show that they are not exact doubles.

“A very perfect couple of similarities would be boring,” he says and says that by making them pose so close it helps to identify each of the people’s similarities and also the differences they have. “Similarities are not equal. They look alike, not much more, but that’s what fascinates me. May someone, in this world, look in the mirror and see more or less the same thing that I see in different mirrors.”

It all started when Brunelle was working as an advertising photographer. He often wore short hair and was compared to the English actor Rowan Atkinson, known for his role as Mr. Bean. Paradoxically, despite a letter he wrote to the actor and a visit to London to get a photo with him, he did not succeed.

Despite feeling disappointed, he continued his search and found that he has two doubles in Canada. This phenomenon also has a statistical explanation: there are more than 7,000 million human beings and there are a limited number of genetic combinations; by chance, two people can have the same traits without being related.

Despite that, for the photographer, it is more of an almost philosophical question: “I wonder if anyone else sees the same thing as me when I stand in front of the mirror every morning.”

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