the plain dealer sunday magazine
October 5th 2003
Story by Christopher Evans
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark

Photographer Mary Ellen Mark explores the bond between twins.

405Q-001-001 Pete and Art Beardsley, 44, Cleveland.
“We won’t miss Twins Days ever,” Pete says. “It’s party time.”

“Lakeasha and Takeasha Edwards, 21, Akron. Twins often have names that sound alike, or begin with the same letter.

Shane and Shawn Riggins, 29, Columbus. “Well, I really believe that we probably would take our last breath together,” Shane says.

Jocelyn and Corrine Botta, 3, Twinsburg. “I chose them because there was a difference,” Mark says about Jocelyn’s black eye.

The first time you meet Pete and Art Beardsley, the theme song from the old Patty Duke Show flashes before your eyes: They laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike; you can lose your mind, when cousins are two of a kind! The Beardsleys aren’t look-a-like cousins. They’re brothers. Actually, they’re more than brothers. They’re identical mirror-image twins. They’re both balding, bearded, beefy, West Siders. They drink the same beer (Miller High Life) and smoke the same cigarettes (Winston, hard pack). They sport the same scraggy ponytails, and stare at you with matching sets of pale blue eyes. They work together. They live together. They hang out together. They seem to be one and the same. But there are subtle differences.

Twin (twin)n. 1. Either one of two born at the same birth: Twins are either identical (produced from the same ovum) or fraternal (produced from separate ovum). 2. Either one of two persons of things very much alike in appearance, shape, structure, etc.

Pete is right-handed. Art is left-handed.
“We got our own personalities,” Art says.
“Everybody says I’m more serious than he is.” Pete grumbles.
“That’s true,” Art says. “Pete never smiles.”
He does when Art says things like that. For a moment, they look like the stars of a Doublemint gum commercial. What’s even more curious than their obvious physical similarities, though, is the fact that the Beardsley’s like, many twins, say they share an inexplicable psychic connection.
People don’t believe it, Art says, "but it true."

It's one of the reasons they're both divorced "We were closer to each other than our wives," Pete says

Then he recounts their most dramatic experience with telepathic oneness. “Art got into a bad car accident in Pittsburgh," Pete remembers. "This would have been in, 1982. I was in Cleveland. Suddenly I felt sick I fell down. I was gasping for breath."
Guy was passing us and clipped the car," Art says. "Killed the driver. Last thing I remember is climbing out of the car and laying down. I woke up in the hospital"

He was in a coma for a couple of days," Pete says. “When he came out of the coma, I started feeling better."

They eyeball each other through a swirl of cigarette smoke “The bond is there," Pete says with a certainty that singletons, as the twinless are known, cannot comprehend .

It is that mystical link between twins that frames the 75 stark tritone images in documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark's latest collection of provocative and peculiar portraits called, appropriately enough, Twins (Aperture, $50).

"I don't think you'll ever know who a twin is unless you're a twin:' Mark says. "They're a mystery, a miracle of nature'

Her eerie and elegant large‑format Polaroids of this phenomenon, published by the nonprofit New York art photography house Aperture, are a quirky celebration of
that mystery. They present a steely eyed, straight‑forward, almost scientific examination of the similarities that set these brothers and sisters (in matched outfits!) apart from the rest of us.

“The images make you stop and think what it’s like to be a twin,” Mark says.

The 63-year-old Mark enjoys a formidable reputation among the camera cognoscente for her evocative documentation of the world’s weirdness, creating an eclectic and eccentric body of work in the last 50 years that focuses on such idiosyncratic subcultures as circus performers in Mexico and prostitutes in Bombay.

I feel as a photographer who likes to photograph reality that there is nothing more interesting, or strange, than reality,” Mark says.

Twins have always intrigued her. Five years ago Mark heard about the annual Twins Day Festival in Twinsburg, about 30 minutes southeast of Cleveland. The unique two‑day event— that began with 36 sets of twins in 1976—  may be the most successful small‑town tourist attraction in Ohio. Thousands of sets of twins from Cleveland to China converge on what the Guinness Book of World Records deems the planet’s largest annual gathering of twins. Mark decided it was the perfect place to set up a studio and work the crowd.

In early August 2001, Mark and her 11‑member or trucked lighting equipment and a cumbersome, almost 6 foot‑tall Polaroid 20‑by‑24 camera from Manhattan to a circus tent set up on the festival grounds in Chamberlin Park. The first twins she met were Pete and Art Beardsley.

"It's our favorite weekend of the year," Pete says of the festival.

"You got something in common with everybody" Art says

If you're not a twin, you're an oddball," Pete says.

They were leery of posing for Mark

"I guess she's a big deal with photographers," Pete says. "I never heard of her'

"We kept blowing her off," Art says.

"She caught us one morning in the lobby of the hotel,"
Pete says, "It was raining. She goes, “I gotta get you guys, I’ll buy you a beer."

Those were the magic words. The Beardsleys are immortalized as the “Miller High Life Twins,” hairy, bare-chested beer drinkers in shorts and sandals.

Drew and Dustin Synder, 10, Springfield. “He’s more funny,” Dustin says about Drew. “I’m more curious.”

Marie-Michele and Caroline Ambrosia, 11, Lyndshurst. According to their mother, the twins share their own language.

Erin and Erica Cunningham, 17, Brookeville. Notice the matching tan lines.

David and Stephan Qualkinbush, 55, with David’s daughters, Jamie and Jodie, 20, North Ridgeville. Just this year the girls spent their first night away from each other.

"They look like cavemen," says their mother, Lois, after viewing the photo.

"It's all right, I guess," Pete says. 'It's something we normally wouldn't do. We're basically shy. Well, I'm shy. I dunno about Art."

"I enjoyed it," Art says. "They were nice people."

"She was great," Pete says about Mark. "She told us, 'Take your shirts off. Don't smile.'"

Mark has a thing about smiles.

"People do that in front of a camera because they think they're supposed to," Mark says. "There's always something uncomfortable about it. You're never getting into who the people are. Also, when people smile, you don't see their eyes. I tell everyone not to smile."

What Mark didn't do was tell the twins what to wear. "Some people think I dressed the twins," Mark says. "That's absolutely not true. I always find what people bring to something like this is much more interesting than what a photographer might dress them in."

The sets of twins Mark photographed—all of whom dress alike for the festival whether it's as boxers or belly dancers or ballerinas— range in age from six months to 78 years. They come in all shapes and sizes and colors. There is a set of Amish twins. There is a set of twin brothers who married twin sisters and who live together in the same house. It is a voyeuristic treat, a guilty pleasure, to slowly run your eyes up and down these enigmatic clones.

Jordan and Joseph Basinger, 3, Columbus Grove. Mark gave the boys Groucho masks to wear because she felt it made them more mysterious.

Frederica and Francine Lynch, 45, Youngstown. The twins divorced their husbands at the same time—for the same reason.

802M-001-01X Mary Ellen Mark with Conchita the dog in Oaxaca, Mexico, last year. "I have a great idea for my next project, but I don't want to talk about it because it's bad luck," the photographer says.

It made Mark— who returned to the festival in 2002 to shoot more portraits— glad she did not have a twin.

“I think it would be very difficult,” Mark says. “The good thing about having a twin is that you have someone so close to you. The bad thing is you always think about losing that twin, that one day one of you is gonna be gone and the other is gonna be left."

Pete looks at Art. He lights a cigarette as he considers the idea of one of them dying before the other. "That's real hard," he says finally. "I try not to think about it."

Christopher Evans is a Sunday Magazine staff writer whose evil twin keeps betting losers out at Thistledown racetrack. He may be reached at 216‑999‑6139 or through magmail®