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Nikon Ambassadors Benedicte Kurzen and Sanne De Wilde document the complexities of twinhood in Nigeria

Amsterdam, The Netherlands, February 2019 - A new photography project from Nikon Ambassadors Benedicte Kurzen and Sanne De Wilde investigates the contrasting beliefs regarding twinhood in contemporary Nigerian society. Equipped with the D850, Z 7 and NIKKOR lenses, the photographers immersed themselves in the communities of Igbo-Ora, where more twins are born than anywhere else in the world¹ the town of Abuja, which represents a darker history of twinhood in the country, and Calabar where traditions and beliefs have been transformed.

The rate of twin births in West Africa is about four times higher than in the rest of the world. In response to this high birth rate, binary beliefs and practices - from celebration to devotion to demonization - have evolved across Nigeria. In many areas, shrines are built to worship the spirit of twins and siblings are encouraged to embrace their sameness and feel lucky to have such an inseparable bond. In others, there are reports of twins still being killed for their perceived role in being evil.

Transcending prejudice

Having only worked individually before this project, Benedicte and Sanne joined forces in order to understand twinhood in Nigeria, not just the perceptions of society but also the genetic connection, via powerful portraits and compositions of twins interacting.

Benedicte Kurzen comments: “Twinhood is a symbolic figure in many different places around the world, but nowhere more so than in Nigeria. Given the negative headlines the country has faced about its treatment of twins, we wanted to take a closer look at the complex mythology underpinning this dark history, while also looking at the bigger picture that, in most places, twins are worshipped.”

Contrasting beliefs

Their twelve-week journey started in Abuja, where just a few years ago, twin persecution was still reported as happening nearby through methods like poisoning. Given that the risk of death to the mother during childbirth is more common when delivering twins, some people still see twins as a danger to the existence of the community, or as humans with ‘strange powers’.

Contrastingly, the town of Igbo-Ora celebrates its twin culture, calling itself the ‘nation home of twins’ and hosting an annual Twin Festival. Almost every house here has at least one set of twins, and the community celebrates this.

Sanne De Wilde, comments: “In Western societies twinhood is seen as something biological but in Africa it’s about the spiritual connection you build through sharing a womb. In Igbo-Ora, twins are encouraged to embrace their sameness and are treated, dressed and fed the same until a very late age. We wanted to communicate this symmetry with our images.”

Calabar, a city in Southern Nigeria, represents an area where beliefs have transformed. In the late 19th century, Mary Slessor, a missionary from Scotland, moved there and opened a clinic in a remote village. By raising twins, she successfully stopped the common practice of infanticide of twins among the Ibibio people. Today, her legacy lives on, and she is remembered in both Nigeria and Europe for the impact she had.

The equipment

Both photographers used the Nikon D850, with its combination of resolution, speed and light sensitivity, to capture over fifty twins across three different parts of the country. The Nikon Z 7 was also used by Benedicte in the last leg of the project in Calabar, paired with the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S lens. The AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G EDAF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G and AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lenses completed their kitbag.

Sanne comments: “The D850’s amazing image quality means that no matter what shot you go for, whether wide angle or portrait, you know the result will be super sharp yet sensitive to light, nuance and expression. Similarly, the lightweight and compact body of the Z 7 is invaluable in our line of work - we can’t wait to put it to the test even more during future projects.”

Talking about their passion for the project, Benedicte concludes: “The aim of this project is to understand the complexities of how twins are treated in Nigeria, not to simplify it. We spoke to some siblings who are extremely proud of their twinhood and the extraordinary connection they experience through it. Other twins have been born into a society where twinhood is condemned and try to shun the symmetry and sameness in fear. By immersing ourselves in the country, its societies and its community of twins, we saw how twinhood’s painful past has become an important part of a future where twins are celebrated.”

The Nikon Europe Special Project Programme

The Nikon Europe Special Project Programme offers the opportunity for Nikon Ambassadors - consisting of talented and influential photographers from across Europe - to realise their dream projects. The programme forms part of Nikon’s ongoing mission to support inspiring photographers, giving them a platform to undertake projects they are passionate about while creating a community of visual artists who aspire to do things differently.

For more information about Benedicte and Sanne’s project please visit their Special Project page.

The kit

During their project, Benedicte and Sanne used the following equipment:

  • D850
  • Z 7

  • NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S
  • AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED
  • AF-S NIKKOR 58mmf/1.4G
  • AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

About Benedicte and Sanne:

Bénédicte and Sanne met through NOOR, a collective of ethically driven photographers, which has been taking a stand for the past ten years through empowering storytelling.

About NOOR:

NOOR is a global, multilingual collective of highly accomplished journalists, authors, photographers, artists and filmmakers documenting, investigating and witnessing our world.

NOOR, which takes its name from the Arabic word for light, launched in 2007 as a platform for its members to take financial control over their work and leverage the power of a group in a changing media landscape.

¹ http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/people/highlights/010607_twins.shtml