Have We Met Before? Doppelgangers Caught On Camera

Jan 29, 2013
Originally published on February 4, 2013 2:29 pm

Francois Brunelle is a French Canadian photographer whose work gives new meaning to the phrase "double exposure."

For the past several years, Brunelle has been documenting doppelgangers — people who happen to look strikingly similar but aren't related. He's on a quest to make 200 black-and-white portraits, and plans to eventually turn the project into a book.

Brunelle tells Melissa Block, host of All Things Considered, that the project started among his friends. One acquaintance worked with a man and woman who shared the same distinct jaw line and skin tone. That was Brunelle's first image for the project.

"I was very proud of this one," Brunelle says. "Since then I've had a couple that are men and women, but it was the first one that [wasn't] the same sex — but it works."

Another time, he swore he saw a friend's husband working at a bank. But when he called his friend, he realized he had just discovered a doppelganger.

"So finally it took me about six months to find the guy. I did the picture with the two men; it was fun to see them," he says. "Each one has two children, they were about the same age, and they were [both] looking for a new spouse. It was very funny."

After his search for pairs ran dry, Brunelle set up a form on his website where visitors can submit themselves for consideration, as long as they have a lookalike in mind. But he says he receives many requests, especially from China, from people hoping he can track down their own mirror image.

"You would be surprised how many people on this planet are looking for their doppelganger," he says. "I've gotten many emails over the years from Chinese people who are asking me, 'Could you please find my lookalike so I can have something to relate to?' "

Brunelle thinks the widespread desire for a familiar face is a symptom of the modern world we live in — where, despite our connections through social media, we can feel more alone than ever.

Brunelle, of course, has identified his own doppelganger. He told the Toronto Star in 2006 that he could pass for actor Rowan Atkinson, best known for his role as Mr. Bean.

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Now to a story that has us seeing double. Several years ago, French Canadian photographer Francois Brunelle started a project documenting doppelgangers. He's on a quest to snap 200 portraits of people who aren't related but just happened to look uncannily alike.

Francois Brunelle joins us now from Montreal. Welcome to the program.

FRANCOIS BRUNELLE: Well, I'm glad to be here today.

BLOCK: I've been looking through a lot of these portraits. They're up on our website, npr.org. And they're just strikingly close in appearance, these two people, and you can't believe that they're not related. I'm looking at a pair from Toronto, Sarah Fournier and Alan Madill. They both have these long faces and very strong jaw. They look exactly like a brother and sister, and they're not. They're not related.

BRUNELLE: No, not at all. The - in fact, it's a friend of mine who has a company in Toronto, he told me, oh, you're looking for look-alikes? There are two people. They work at my office, and they look the same, and you should see them. So I went to Toronto, and they came to the place I had found in Toronto to do the picture. And when I saw them, I said, oh, my God, look at the jaws, you know? And the skin is the same, so that was one of my first that I did. And I was very proud of this one, a man and a woman, which was uncanny at the time for me because since then, I've - a couple that are men and women, but the first one, not the same sex, so I thought it was weird. But then it worked.

BLOCK: You know, the skeptic in me does wonder if you do any checking to see whether they might just possibly be related after all, and that's why they look alike.

BRUNELLE: Yeah. It's a good question because I personally ask this question myself every time. But I ask them for, you know, information, and I make sure before they show up that they are not related at all.

BLOCK: And how are you finding the people for these photographs, these doppelgangers?

BRUNELLE: Well, at first, I would know some people, you know, that I met over the years, and then I would try to reach them. I remember there was the husband of a friend of mine. I think he worked at the bank once because I worked at the bank, and I saw this man and I say, oh, my God, that must be him. But, hmm, maybe he's the same. Finally, I call my friend, I say, your husband finally switched jobs for - to be banker. She said, no - what are you talking about?

BLOCK: Ha, wrong guy.

BRUNELLE: Yeah, wrong guy. So finally, I - it took me about six months to find the guy. Finally, he showed up, and I did the picture with the two men, you know, first time to see them. And each one, as the pictures were in, they were about the same age. And they were looking for a new spouse, both of them. So they are (unintelligible) you know? It was very, very, very funny.

But after a couple of good pairs that I found by myself, I was short of people, so I decided to ask the media for help. And people hear about my project and then they just go to my website, which bears my name francoisbrunelle.com, and then they can register and send me a little note about who they are and who is their doppelganger because I'm looking for pairs of existing doppelgangers and not trying to match people with other people in the world. I do not do that. I got a lot of email, especially from Brazil, and they say, oh, please find my lookalike.


BLOCK: Oh, they want to have a doppelganger. They don't know of one.

BRUNELLE: Oh, yeah. It's - you would be surprised how many people on this planet are looking for their doppelganger. And the most interesting example, I guess, would be the Chinese people. I've got many emails over the years from Chinese people who are asking me, could you please find my lookalike, please, so I can have something to relate to? So this is quite amazing. And some of them, they write from Beijing, China. So...

BLOCK: What do you think that says?

BRUNELLE: Well, I think that we live in a world where people are more alone than ever because we're more in contact with people with Facebook and the smartphones and everything. But at the end of the day, you're alone in your room and you're thinking about your life, and it's - you would like to have someone, I guess, to relate to, that could be your partner or your best friend. So someone who looks like you, at least you can share some of your misery, I guess. I don't know. It's a good question.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Brunelle, good luck with your doppelganger project, and thanks for talking to us about it.

BRUNELLE: Thank you very much, Melissa. That was great.

BLOCK: That's photographer Francois Brunelle of Montreal. He's on a quest to document 200 portraits of doppelgangers. And you can check out the images yourself at npr.org.


BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.