Ignacio Coló, Eduardo & Miguel

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2022 by Editorial RM (here). Softcover (21.2 x 29.2 cm), 112 pages, with 55 color photographs. Includes essays (in Spanish/English) by Susana Kuras Mauer and the artist. Design by Ricardo Báez. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: The new photobook Eduardo & Miguel by the Argentine photographer Ignacio Coló is a movingly intimate portrait of Eduardo and Miguel Portnoy, twin brothers who have never lived apart. The two men were born in Buenos Aires, and now in their early 50s, still live there today. They share a two bedroom apartment, work together, and follow the same daily routine. According to Coló, the brothers “have a mild developmental delay, which makes them more vulnerable but also brings them closer together. The two of them are their only shelter, built on love, loneliness and vulnerability.” Over the years, their parents and other family members have died, leaving them on their own, and while the local Jewish community has continued to provide support to the brothers, for the most part, they rely on each other. 

Coló met Eduardo and Miguel by sheer chance. He was driving when he saw the twins crossing the road; he instantly knew that he wanted to photograph them, but by the time he had parked, the brothers were gone. Coló talked to a seller at the local newsstand, who said the brothers passed by every day, and Coló explained that he was a photographer and left his business card, noting he would love to photograph the brothers. The next day he received a phone call from Miguel, and they agreed to meet for a coffee. Coló says that the moment he met them, he knew he wouldn’t be able to “condense the story of the two men in a single image.” He spent three years documenting the twins, and their story is shared in Eduardo & Miguel.

Eduardo & Miguel is a softcover book of a medium size, and its clever design decisions reinforce its narrative. The format of the book, particularly its construction and layout, creates a uniquely personal experience. It opens with a portrait of Eduardo on one side and Miguel on the other, and graphic elements on the cover and the book spine provide additional navigational guidance, with elegant arrows indicating where the story of each brother starts. The explanatory text is placed on the inside of the book flaps, separating it from the main visual narrative.

All of these presentation choices become integral to the two-sided, mirrored narrative of the two men, and this smart structuring of the imagery not only presents the strangely doubled life and relationship of the Portnoy brothers, but also conveys a deep sense of respect and empathy. Additional photos from family archives bring in moments from their shared childhood, and the muted washed out palette, with its particular accent on white, ties all the images together in a soft, hazy atmosphere that is both curious and charming. 

Coló’s photographs generally focus on the brothers’ environment, and the unique bond they have developed over their years together. The two individual sides of the book (one dedicated to Miguel, the other to Eduardo) ultimately meet in the middle, creating a shared visual narrative. After a portrait of each brother opens each side, similar images of silver name chains placed against blank white backgrounds come next, and while they look almost identical, the way they are positioned on the page is very different: one is collected in a small neat pile, while the other one (for Eduardo) is shaped as the letter “M”.

On the Eduardo side, we first see Eduardo as he poses outside, wearing a collared shirt and jean shorts, proudly looking straight into the camera. A series of photographs then tells us a bit more about his life and personality – we see him at home making a phone call, and using a step machine in a living room. Another spread shows his jacket with a white shirt and a bow tie on a hanger. And then an archival photo shows him as a teenager posing next to a woman (to her right), perhaps their mother. It is followed by a shot of a big family gathering at the table sharing a meal. On the Miguel side of the book, a similar narrative unfolds introducing Miguel, only this time in the photographs, he always appears on the other side, or looking in the opposite direction. In this way, the brothers both symbolically and literally reflect each other, as they share the same routine, the same taste, the same values, and of course, the same mother. 

The portraits of the Portnoy brothers merge in the center of the book, as they become one again. Fragments of their life and daily routines shed light on their self-organization. First, a line of white underwear and socks hung to dry crosses across the spread. It is followed by a shot showing the brothers as they warmly embrace. In this part, they are seen together: in their suites sitting on a green sofa in the living room, on stairs changing the light bulb together, the gutter of the book providing a handy separation. In the center of the book, the images rotate, capturing them in matching pajamas holding iPhones they just got for the first time, followed by another vertical shot (rotated the other direction), also in pajamas, this time holding a dustpan and a broom. The circumstances change, but they seemingly move through their life as one, in unison, with unconditional support for each other. 

Twins and their extraordinary bond have long fascinated photographers, from Mary Ellen Mark’s twin photos and Diane Arbus’s famous photograph of identical twins, to more recent series by Martin Schoeller, Gao Rongguo, and Peter Zelewski. Coló’s photobook also brings to mind the work of Ecuadorian photographer Fabiola Cedillo who lovingly documented the world of her epileptic sister in Los mundos de TITA (reviewed here).

As a photobook, Eduardo & Miguel is innovative in both its content and presentation, and is similarly beautifully produced, thoughtful and elegant throughout. It is a small self-sufficient project that tenderly captures the nuances of the relationship between the two brothers, and does so with a charming sense of heartwarming human empathy. The series offers a candid story of being lonely, but also of being intimately close to another person, and also touches upon the universal concepts of constructing identity and taking care of each other. In the past two and a half years of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have experienced similar emotions and solitudes, making the sympathetic message presented here all the more resonant.

Collector’s POV: Ignacio Coló does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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