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Behind the Series with Colleen Ordoñez

DESIGUAL (unequal)


Can you describe the concept behind your photo series?

Kaira and Zoe are identical twins. They share the same genetic code. However, a few months after their birth, the unknown erupted: sleep disorder, strange body movements, intellectual backwardness, frequent laughter and a constant state of happiness. There was never a diagnosis for Zoe, only speculations. 

“I don’t feel the same as her, she is my younger sister” ©Colleen Ordoñez

Desigual is a story that explores and reveals from a daily basis the mysterious and delicate nature of the bond between my twin daughters based on the visible difference in their development. Through coexistence, a photographic experience begins where the communication ties between them are visible. Each one experiences their world in a different way. Each one follows its own path. A path that always transcends the desire to want to be together. 

The visual narrative of this story is supported by metaphorical elements that relate a beautiful connection and at the same time propose a reconciliation between two truths that apparently cannot coexist: They are equal. They are different. It invites us to see unity in inequality.

©Colleen Ordoñez

What led you to begin to shoot this series?

In March 2019, I decided to apply for a Masters in documentary photography at the Image Center (Lima-Perú). I didn’t imagine that this path would bring me on a rollercoaster of emotions and give voice to what I needed to observe and attend to, both as a mother and a photographer. What began as a visual exploration exercise in one of the courses, when looking at some photographs of my daughters, ended up becoming my final project and led me to face a vital situation that was revealed to me about my everyday life.

I realized that the relationship between my twin daughters had been interrupted by the unexpected, the uncertainty, by my constant need to search for a truth that I needed to know and understand, and by wanting to heal what was never sick.

©Colleen Ordoñez

What personal meaning has this story held for you?

This story was the beginning of a healing process. With the arrival of motherhood, I wanted to record with my camera every moment of the world of my twin daughters inhabited.This connection was disrupted by the awareness that one of them began to show signs of what, to this day, does not have a defined diagnosis, which caused a visible difference in their development. I ventured into the medical world in search of answers and paid little attention to the individual and emotional needs of my daughters. My lack of acceptance of their evolutionary cycle generated a constant state of anxiety in our family. 

Over the following years I sought, through my photography, a reconciliation with that maternal stage that I was not able to enjoy from the beginning. Drawn to the communication ties and the beautiful connection that exists between my twin daughters, I decided to dramatically change my photography style and headed towards documentary photography, directing my focus on recording everyday moments within family experiences. 

©Colleen Ordoñez

Through my images I seek to reestablish in a loving way and with a beautiful collaboration, the connection that was interfered with many times by emotions. To generate new bonds and experiences of coexistence, respecting the differences in the development of each person as they are. Telling this story and sharing it with the world was a very profound and transcendent experience in my life. It allowed me to express my truth in a very genuine way and transform it into magic.

©Colleen Ordoñez

How have your daughters responded to being the subjects of a photo series? 

When I started this project I talked to my daughters and told them what it was about and that I would be constantly taking photos of them at all times. They thought it was fun as that would mean I was going to spend more time with them. There were times when I felt like I was invading their space and privacy, yet there was never any reaction from them. On the contrary, they helped me choose the photos that would make this story known. It was, for me, a time of great connection and observation. And it was also interesting when choosing the photos, to see in my case, how my choices were conditioned by my emotions and life experience. While the choices of my daughters reflected a world of infinite possibilities.

©Colleen Ordoñez

What challenges have you come across while shooting?

As a photographer and mother, the great challenge was to explore and face this experience of life from a different perspective. From a feeling of unity, and not of separation, learning to accept diversity and the evolutionary process of each one. It was revealing for me to see how affection constantly coexists with difficulty.

What do you see as the value of creating narratives about our own families?

Family stories directly impact the way we see ourselves because they give us insight into our background and how we fit into our family and society. Through photography, those moments that connect us emotionally with our experiences are recorded, creating memories that last over time.

For me photography means a connection with the world around me and a representation of my imagination. Photography allows me to experience the three states of time, past-present-future, through an instant of life. It helps me develop skills such as patience, observation, creativity and the permanent search for the unique. And it constantly awakens in me a feeling of wanting to show the world as it is.

©Colleen Ordoñez

Is this a series that you continue to shoot for, or is it finished?

Life continues to happen and my daughters continue to develop each at their own pace. This causes a new story to be written every day about their relationship and how they each influences each others lives. I think this story has just begun.

Desigual will be exhibited in its entirety this October in Lima, Peru.

You can find more of Colleens work on her website and on Instagram @colleenfotografia

The Documentary Family Awards is an international competition in search of the insightful and meaningful ways that documentary photographers explore the interpretation of family.