We’ve all heard it before. “OMG! I saw your doppelgänger today.” Or, “You look exactly like this friend of mine.”
Whether they mean to or not, people subconsciously associate everything new they see with something familiar, especially when it comes to others. Noses, eyes, lips—they are all compared to the facial features of someone else. It makes us curious to see how other people perceive us, but mostly it is intriguing to think that we may not be as unique as we thought we are. After all, how much could someone you’ve never met really look like you, right?!
You’d be surprised.
Canadian photographer François Brunelle, who has been compared by his friends to comedic actor Rowan Atkinson—most famously known as Mr. Bean—is set on bringing together those who are often confused as someone else. Since hearing his own comparison in 2000, Brunelle has been bringing together and photographing doppelgängers from all over the world for his I’m Not a Look-Alike series.
The project began with people that he knew. 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 said 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 he has already exceeded. His results are extraordinary, but what is even more astonishing is the parallel lives that many of them lead.
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 the Look-Alike project, they were finally able to meet each other, and have since become close pals. “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.”
Brunelle’s project spans beyond his native Canada. He has traveled across the globe to photograph doppelgängers who come from completely different countries, and he continues to receive submissions from individuals who know doppelgängers sometimes thousands of miles apart.
“Turns out, both men are married to women named Francine and have sons of similar ages.”
At 68 years old, Brunelle has always worked in photography, a hobby that runs in his family. Before he was born, his father photographed farms while his mother developed the images in their home’s bathroom. When he was 9 years old, he started to help his brother develop prints the same way and, by 13, had begun to take his own photos. “I haven’t stopped since then. I’m an addict of looking at a still image.”
Over the last 14 years, the artist has photographed hundreds of pairs of doppelgängers. His next step is a book publication and a large-scale exhibition, but his project might not be coming to a close just yet. Brunelle hopes to expand his collection of subjects to all six habitable continents, covering as many different ethnicities and cultures as possible, often with the help of complete strangers.
Recently, a man in Colombia was shown Brunelle’s work by a friend. Intrigued, he contacted Brunelle hoping to enlist his help with a show. “[He] wants to organize an exhibit on Colombian look-alikes,” the photographer says. “The idea of the show is to bring people together in Colombia, a country that has suffered in the past from many things.” The same thing has happened in Jordan.
Brunelle jumped at the chance for the opportunity to expand his series to South America. Whether or not the sponsors can pull off the show is the biggest issue. But, the exposure would be great for the artist, propelling him one step closer to fulfilling the project. And, after all, we all secretly want to meet our doppelgängers.