By Peter Zelewski
Hermon and Heroda
The portrait of Hermon and Heroda was taken in Newmans Passage, Fitzrovia, Central London in January 2017 and forms part of my project ‘Alike But Not Alike’ which explores the similarities and differences between sets of identical twins. The project highlights society’s universal fascination with identical twins and the bonds between them. Like all the photographs from the project, I photographed Hermon and Heroda against a very neutral backdrop which was intended to give as little away as possible to their social status or background. Although dressed similar in the photograph, the subtle obvious differences can be seen in their expressions and stance proving that no sets of twins are truly identical.
One of the main differences between my current ‘Twins’ project and my previous street portraiture projects is that instead of sourcing strangers directly on the streets as subjects, I have set up the majority of the photographs as pre-planned photoshoots. On my initial search for a set of twins for the project, I discovered two Eritrean born fashion bloggers ‘Hermon and Heroda’ via social media. I had a chat with them about my project via email, they kindly agreed to be photographed and I arranged to meet them the following Saturday for our photoshoot. I chose Newmans Passage in Fitzrovia, Central London as a backdrop because I had used this location for previous photoshoots and loved the equal balance of light which worked its way through the dark alleyway. Additionally, the cool muted tones of the grey and blue walls would work perfectly as a backdrop to the strong coloured dresses the girls would be wearing.
When I met Hermon and Heroda at Goodge Street Underground Station, I was thrilled to see how striking they looked and with the wonderful weather conditions I knew everything was now in place for a successful photoshoot. Building a strong communicative bond with my subjects is always very important to me so I intentionally met the twins at a location which would give us time to walk and chat before we started our photoshoot. As we made our introductions, Hermon and Heroda immediately explained to me that they were both deaf and that they would do their best to communicate with me using a combination of sign language and lip reading. This was completely unexpected and my heart went out to both of them just imagining how hard it must be to cope in a busy city like London with their disability. Additionally, I worried slightly how the photoshoot would go if I was unable to direct or communicate in the way I was normally used to.
As we walked towards Newmans Passage, we discussed their backgrounds, ambitions and plans for the future which included acting, modeling and fashion blogging. They told me how they came to London from Eritrea, Africa to seek medical help after they both unexpectedly lost their hearing at the same time when they were only seven years old. We also discussed the barriers they faced in everyday life and how they used their disability to help break down stereotypes. I was now completely fascinated by the twins and their stories and any doubts I may have had about our photoshoot not going to plan completely disappeared. Although at times we struggled with our communication, the determination from the twins to makes their voices heard was astonishing. By the time we arrived at Newmans Passage there was now a very strong bond between us and I knew the photoshoot was going to be a success.
Taking portraits outdoors in mid-January was always going to be a challenge considering the lack of natural light at this time of the year. Luckily, on the day of the shoot, I was blessed with a strong, steady stream of light flowing through the centre of Newmans Passage which meant I didn’t have to resort to any unnatural lighting. Although the sun was strong, I knew the tall walls on both sides of the alley would act to prevent any overexposure ensuring balanced light throughout the alley. My plan was to position Hermon and Heroda side-by-side in the middle of the alley and then photograph them with a very wide aperture which would ensure their face/body was in total focus with a slight blurring of the background. To allow a sufficient amount of separation between the twins and the background, I set my aperture to f/2.8. So that the twins were both in complete focus, I placed a single piece of long tape across the alleyway for the girls to stand on which would ensure they would not fall outside of the focal plane.
I always prefer my subjects to act in the most natural way possible so I didn’t want to over direct the shoot in anyway. Although I was happy with the initial shots I was getting with the very enthusiastic twins smiling away, I really wanted to capture their strength and determination so I asked the girls to adopt a more serious expression and pose. To convey this to the twins, I fluffed my way through various forms of sign language and facial expressions which the girls completely took on board. The photographs were now much stronger and the twins looked amazing and I knew I was not far off from getting the exact image I was after. I continued to photograph the twins for another 10-15 minutes and I was amazed by how enthusiastic, excited and professional they acted throughout. After looking at the final frames in my camera display I was completely confident with the selection of shots from our wonderful afternoon together.
As a portrait photographer I am often asked what makes a successful portrait and although there are many contributing factors, I always say that great communication and a strong connection is the key. My portrait of Hermon and Heroda is testament to that statement. Although I expected several technical challenges from our shoot together I wasn’t expecting communication to be one of them. Being thrown off guard from the outset was probably a good thing as it taught me that if you were going to make a successful portrait, then you need to be able to tackle and adapt to any given situation. Within minutes of initially meeting the twins, I stopped thinking about how I was going to make this shoot work technically but instead focused on how I could talk, listen and laugh with the twins to ensure they were having fun to make our photoshoot a success. I’m proud to say that I feel I achieved this with the final portrait of the twins. Of course, credit must go to Hermon and Heroda who gave more to this shoot than most of the professional models I have worked with proving that disability is really just a state of mind and not a state of body.
Camera - Leica M-E
Lens - Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4
ISO - 400
Shutter speed - 1/125th
Aperture - f/2.8
Lighting - All natural
Hermon and Heroda - www.beinghermonheroda.com
Peter Zelewski - www.peterzelewskiphotography.com