BBC Future

‘Genetic portraits’ offer view of family resemblances

About the author

Stephen Dowling is BBC Future's associate editor.

Twitter: @sjdowling

He also blogs about analogue photography: Zorkiphoto


  • Sisters: Anne-Sophie, 19 and Pascale, 16
    (Copyright: Ulric Collette)
  • Father and daughter: Daniel, 60 and Isabelle, 32
    (Copyright: Ulric Collette)
  • Brothers: Christophe, 30 and (photographer) Ulric, 29
    (Copyright: Ulric Collette)
  • Daughter and mother: Marie-Pier, 18 and N'sira, 49
    (Copyright: Ulric Collette)
  • Father and son: Denis, 53 and William, 28
    (Copyright: Ulric Collette)
  • Father and son: Laval, 56 and Vincent, 29
    (Copyright: Ulric Collette)
  • Twins: Laurence and Christine, 20
    (Copyright: Ulric Collette)
  • Sister and brother: Karine, 29 and Dany, 25
    (Copyright: Ulric Collette)
  • Daughter and mother: Véronique, 29 and Francine, 56
    (Copyright: Ulric Collette)
  • Son and father: Nathan, 7 and (photographer) Ulric, 29
    (Copyright: Ulric Collette)
By splicing together images from siblings, parents and children, one photographer is exploring the way in which we inherit our appearances.

“Family faces are magic mirrors looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future,” wrote US journalist and author Gail Lumet Buckley. Perhaps nowhere is this shown more starkly than Ulric Collette’s so-called “genetic portraits”, in which family members’ faces are spliced together to reveal the similarities and differences encoded by our appearances.

Collette, a self-taught photographer from Quebec, Canada, began exploring these genetic relationships after an editing accident. “I was attempting to create something totally different with another project, and in the process I came up with the first picture, me and my then 7-year-old son,” he says. He discovered that comparing one half of a face with another half was an effective way to show the resemblance between two relatives. “I decided to try the same process with a few family members and the project was born.”

Collette started shooting in 2008, and he admits there's many technical considerations needed to arrive at a perfect match between the two photographs. “I need to take a lot of pictures in a controlled environment of each model, compare the picture to one another, chose the right ones and stick them together in Photoshop,” he says.

Once he has around 100 portraits, Collette hopes to publish a book. His also hopes an exhibition which was shown in Montreal last year travels all over the world, and perhaps features some celebrities too.

“The reaction to the project never ceases to surprise me,” he says. “A few of the ones I'm in shocked me – me and my brother Christophe, for example, we totally look the same!”

(HT @GreatDismal)

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