SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — When it was suggested that conjoined twins Lupita and Carmen Andrade could be separated, the 12-year-old girls were devastated. “Why would you want to cut us in half?” they asked their mother. As it happens, when they met with surgeons, the girls discovered separation was impossible because they share too many vital organs and their lower spine
The girls were born in Veracruz, Mexico, and moved to the US on a medical visa at the age of two. They now live in New Milford, Connecticut, with their parents, sister Abby and dog Toby. Annabel Clark first photographed them four years ago and has been doing so ever since. Clark was worried about exploiting the girls, but Lupita and Carmen made sure there was no chance of that. Yes, life has its difficulties, but they are too busy with gymnastics and school plays and socialising and playing piano to think about exploitation or pity.
We are connected by the torso,” Carmen says. “My sister Lupita has a curve in her back that is very serious, and I have problems with my stomach.” Despite this, doctors have said they have every chance of enjoying old age. Though they are close, in every sense, they are not sentimental about their relationship. When Clark asked if they were best friends, she was given short shrift. “No, we’re sisters,” Carmen replied. “But are you also friends?” Clark persisted. “We’re sisters,” Lupita replied adamantly. “Just sisters.”
Clark started taking their photographs as part of a project documenting medical missions in which children were brought to the US for long-term medical care. They have had, and continue to have, intense physical therapy, and started to walk only when they were three or four years old. Carmen operates the right leg, Lupita the left. The girls are at a regular school and say they never argue. The only cause of friction is that Carmen could be in normal classes, but has to be taught alongside Lupita in a special needs unit. Carmen says she gets a little bored at school.
Of course, Clark says, she had preconceptions about what the girls would or would not be able to do. “When they did a handstand, the first time I met them, they shattered any ideas I had about how mobile they’d be. I think they wanted to show me what they were capable of.” At first they were curious about Clark’s equipment and the process of photography – what does a light meter do? What’s with the camera that doesn’t have a screen on the back? – but before long they forgot the camera was there.
Clark sees her work with the girls as long-term, showing their transformation into teens and womanhood. What does she hope to achieve from the project? To change the way many of us look at people such as Carmen and Lupita, she says. “There seems to be a conventional way to talk about conjoined twins: bring them on a talkshow or give them their own series. I never feel that those types of shows lead to more tolerance or understanding. I hope these photos make people feel like they are hanging out with Carmen and Lupita, rather than watching them from a distance. I want people to see not only how amazing it is to be in their presence, but also how similar their world is to that of other girls their age.” “My favourite kind of music is pop, hip-hop and R&B,” Carmen says. Lupita loves animals and talks of being a vet. They have not yet had that difficult conversation of what happens if they want to pursue different careers
Clark is hoping to publish a book of the photographs and use any proceeds to help the girls with their medical needs. The pictures were shown in an exhibition in New York, and the photographer was fascinated by the way people reacted to them. She loves the picture of the girls lying on the bed because, at first glance, they look like perfectly normal, if unusually beautiful, twins. “It gave people a chance to really see them as the two individuals they are,” Clark says. “Once they looked at the picture of the doll, they realised and started to ask questions.”
The photographer was particularly moved by a comment posted by a formerly conjoined twin who had lost her other half. She wrote: “When I Google conjoined twins, I get dead ones squeezed into a glass or wacko science fiction, but until now never one about the special bond we share, or about how we make relationships work, what personality is to us. Nobody ever asks us!” The girls are far more interested in the memories the pictures hold than the fact that they have been exhibited in a gallery. Clark says, “When they saw a photo of themselves in the snow from 2009, Lupita exclaimed, ‘Remember when we made the biggest snowball in the town? That was fun.’
The girls love music, and being conjoined provides an extra challenge. “It is kind of interesting,” Carmen says. At the piano, she plays the right hand and Lupita the left. Now Carmen is keen to take up violin, but can see there could be issues: “I think I might hit Lupita in the face.”
How do they feel about being conjoined? “I like it,” Lupita says. “But sometimes I don’t.” Yes, they’re aware people stare at them, but they have found the perfect riposte. “I have a very good method,” Carmen says. “They stare at me like I’m crazy, I stare at them like they’re crazy. Treat people the way you want to be treated: they want to treat me like that, I’ll treat them like that. — www.shafaqna.com