Project title: Mady and Monette
Since I started taking pictures and thinking of them as stories, I have been interested in focusing on contemporary issues related to the limitations of the body. The idea of a ‘failing’ body is something that we in the west don’t seem to be able to accept. Disease, ageing and dying thus represent big taboos. Through my interest in documenting the contemporary western world, I started considering the general lack of visual representations of issues related to older generations.
As I found myself in this process, I met Mady and Monette. Monette and Mady are identical twins. They have lived their whole life closely together and are, as they say, inseparable. I first saw them on the streets of Paris and I was instantly fascinated by their identical outfits and synchronized corporal language.
Quirky and beautiful, they stood out from the crowd. As I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, I remember thinking that they might not be real. When I approached them I was not surprised to discover that they often finish each other’s sentences and refer to themselves as “I” instead of “we.”
Neither Mady nor Monette have married or had children and they always eat the same kind of food in identical portions. They do not just share a close relationship as sisters; as a couple they act, model and dance together and the city of Paris is their main stage. If they ever go out dressed in different outfits, people stop and ask why they argue.
Since a great part of Mady and Monette’s lives is about performing, in front of cameras or on a stage as well as on the street, this project consists of a mix of staged and documentary images. The more staged photographs are alternated with pictures of the sisters interacting naturally as they go about their daily business. Since Mady and Monette are both eccentric yet very private people, this combination reflects their lives, particularly since it is not always obvious to tell the two approaches apart.
Additionally, when I first spotted the sisters, I wasn't quite sure that they were real so this addition of fiction makes for a dreamy atmosphere, a bit like a mirage that reflects my initial impression of them. The streets of Paris make the perfect backdrop for such ambiguity to be played out, confusing us with its references to fashion, film and art. It makes the documenting of everyday events somewhat surreal.
Mady and Monette are indifferent to the many stereotypes that are related to aging. They have, in fact, long stopped celebrating their birthdays and they defy any pre-conceived notions related to growing old. This series is an intimate journal of their togetherness and as an alternative take on the complex issues that accompanies the notion of “aging” today; I aim to pursue this series over the years, as Mady and Monette grow older.
Being born as an identical twin often raises questions about identity and intimacy. Most people search for a life-partner to share their life with and a big part of our identity is built around this condition. As we are confronted with the radically unique and viscerally embodied relationship of Mady and Monette, we are faced with feelings of fascination but also with distrust. This project operates in this borderland. As we enter the game orchestrated by the sisters, this series attempts to play with notions of identity as we ask ourselves the question “is that the same person twice?”
I am interested in developing a visual language that challenges more traditional practices of documentary and portrait photography. I want for my photographic work to provoke questions and I aspire to create an alternative view of what may have been forgotten, or just simply ignored in a world obsessed with beauty and youth.
As I hope to develop a fruitful career where I can share my stories with a widespread public, I aspire to make work that can sit comfortably in various contexts. As I ask questions and engage with society though my photographs, I want my work to be seen both within the context of books, museums and commercial galleries as well as within a more democratic context such as the editorial world, through magazines, the web and other media.
About the recipient:
Swedish-born Maja Daniels (b.1985) is based in London, UK. Having studied journalism, photography and sociology, her work focuses on creative documentary and portraiture. By using sociology as a frame of research and approach to her work, she finds it a successful combination when trying to focus on the interaction between man and society in a western, contemporary environment.
She is the recipient of the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, and was a second prize winner of the Sony World Photography awards 2012. She was a participant in the 2012 World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass and selected as one of the Magenta Foundations Flash Forward Emerging Photographers in 2011 and 2012. She was recently nominated for the 2013 Prix Pictet and she was shortlisted for the 2010 PhotoVisura Grant for an outstanding personal photography project.
Daniels’ photographs have been included in exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts (London), The Photographers Gallery (London), The National Portrait Gallery (London), Somerset House (London), Belfast Exposed (Belfast) and Getxophoto (Bilbao). She has received bursaries to develop personal projects by the John Kobal Foundation and the British Arts Council and apart from her dedication to long-term personal projects she is regularly commissioned by the weekly and monthly press such as New York Magazine, The Guardian Weekend, Intelligent Life, Monocle Magazine, FT Magazine and Le Monde Magazine. Maja also collaborates with social scientists on academic projects, using photography as a tool within sociological and cultural research.
Approach to portraiture:
Photography is for me a way to engage with and comment on the society I live in and am part of. I try to use it as a tool to try to understand and engage with my surroundings.
What attracts me to photography is its capacity to tell stories and it is this notion of storytelling that inspires me to make pictures. I like for ‘my stories’ to be rooted in real events and to evolve around real people but it is just as important for me to create a subjective, personal narrative. I want to comment on contemporary society, its issues, people and events but I don’t want to speak for others.
I am interested to engage with photography that deals with, and relies on specific access. I often work on long term projects, which means developing relationships and maintaining an exchange with my subjects over time. I find photography in itself to be a rather aggressive act so it has become increasingly important for me to collaborate with my subjects. I feel more comfortable if, by photographing, I can create something that is just as meaningful to the sitter as it is to me.
I tell my stories through portraits since I find it the most creative and natural way for subject and photographer to use their mutual relationship, long-term or instantaneous, in order to make an image.