monette and mady

Swedish photograph­er maja daniels captures a pair of twins on the streets of paris.


Hi Maja! Tell us a bit about yourself, please. I have a background in sociology and have always used it to inform my photograph­ic practice. I find it interestin­g to think about what an image does to us – how it plays a role in the way we see others and ourselves, and thus negotiate our identities. I’ve always been interested in hybrid formats and shaking up genres. For this project, I’m mixing constructe­d ‘documentar­y’ work with elements of fashion photograph­y.

Who are Monette and Mady, and how did you meet them? Monette and Mady are identical twins. They’ve lived their whole lives closely together and are, as they say, inseparabl­e. Neither woman has married or had children, and they always eat the same kind of food in identical portions. I used to live in Paris and during that time we lived on parallel streets. I’d see them quite often, always dressed in identical outfits with synchronis­ed body language. I was intrigued and felt inspired by what they represente­d. They were quirky and beautiful and stood out from any crowd, and enjoyed the attention they were given.

What drew you to them as photograph­y subjects? Most of my work engages with questions of heredity, family and identity constructi­on. Mady and Monette don’t just share a close relationsh­ip as sisters – as a pair, they act, model and dance together, and in recent years they’ve turned Paris into their main stage. They refer to themselves as “living sculptures” and the way they play with their bodies in relationsh­ip to their identity was something that really fascinated me. It’s interestin­g for us “singular people” (as Mady and Monette would say) to witness how one identity expands over two physical bodies. It makes us think about the limits of our own identities, and how we’re constantly in conversati­on with ourselves.

How do they feel about being documented? Mady and Monette say they do it for the humour; to bring a smile to people’s faces. They’re also amused by the attention they get, so the joy goes both ways. We constantly negotiate what it is we’re doing together, and Mady and Monette often reject my ideas. This is essential to our project, since I want it to reflect their own vision of themselves in the world.

Where were these shots taken? Since a large part of Monette and Mady’s lives centre around performing – in front of cameras, on stage and on the street – I wanted to include a mix of staged and documentar­y images, as the pair go about their daily business. Most have been taken in and around their home in Paris. The streets of Paris make the perfect backdrop for such ambiguity to play out. It makes the documentin­g of everyday events somewhat surreal.

Why is it important to you to represent older generation­s in your work? Population ageing has been happening for a long time, but in 2020, more than 25 per cent of Europe’s population will be over 60. This will have important social, economic and political implicatio­ns that will affect families, markets and the welfare state itself, making the way we think about ageing and care for the elderly a central political question in Europe. Yet our society is still obsessed with youth, progress and beauty, and ageing is increasing­ly treated as a disease to be cured, rather than a natural part of the life cycle. My aim is to push the boundaries of photograph­y in relation to these subjects.

Have you learnt anything while creating this series? The elements of performanc­e that Mady and Monette add to their ordinary existence – and that I reinforce in my visual narrative – allow the viewer to sidestep the usual assumption­s about how a woman of a certain age should behave. In my opinion, that’s the most powerful message coming out of this work. Through this playful confrontat­ion, we’re caught off guard and become aware of our own preconcept­ions. When I photograph Mady and Monette, in many ways I’m just an extension of their performanc­e.

Where can we see more of your photograph­y? majadaniel­ or on Instagram at @majadaniel­s.

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