NEW YORK, NY.- Family Resemblance
is a multi-year photo project that documents and celebrates people who are genetically related and bear a strong resemblance to each other. As an adopted person, photographer Eric Mueller always wondered what it would be like to look like someone else. At age forty-five, Mueller received a photograph of his birth mother in the mail, which was the first time he ever saw a biological relative; he was stunned by how much he resembled her. "Seeing myself in another person's face was a lightning bolt so powerful it divided my life into everything that happened before that moment from everything that happened after."
The momentous experience of seeing his biological mother triggered Mueller's idea to photograph family members with shared physical characteristics. Over the course of three years, Mueller photographed about 700 people and asked them what it is like to resemble each other. The result is Family Resemblance (Daylight, May 2020), a unique and fascinating typological study that explores the special bond certain family members share. Many of the photos in the book are accompanied by quotes from project participants, revealing how looking alike has affected their lives and relationships, and created a deeper understanding about what family resemblance means.
The people who entered Mueller's studio to be photographed were as young as eight weeks, and as old as ninety-eight years. They represent every type of family relationship, including mother/daughter, father/son, siblings, parent/child and even adoptees who came in with one of their birth parents to be photographed together. To emphasize their similarities, Mueller asked all his subjects to dress in white.
The book includes a personal essay by Mueller in which he writes about growing up adopted, locating his birth mother in 2010 only to discover she had died in 2002, coping with the loss of a mother he never knew, the loss of his two beloved adopted parents mid-project, to acceptance of the things he has. Among his family members today, are cousins from his biological mother's (and father's) sides of the family that he found as a result of his search for his genetic parents.
The book also includes an insightful essay entitled "The Missing Picture" by Ann Fessler, the author of the award-winning book The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade (Penguin Press, 2006). Like Mueller, Fessler is an adoptee, though much closer to his biological mother's age than to his. The Girls Who Went Away is a meticulously researched account of an era when 1.5 million women lost children to adoption due to the social pressures of the time. Mueller's mother was among those women.
Eric Mueller is a Minneapolis-based artist, photographer, and teacher. As an adopted person, his personal work focuses on questions of identity as it relates to family. His work has been published in The Photo Review and American Photography 35, and exhibited in many group shows, including at the Plains Art Museum, the Devos Art Museum, the Midwest Center for Photography, Head On Photo Festival, the Southeast Center for Photography, and the Columbus Museum of Art. Mueller has been featured in an Emmy-award winning episode of TPT's Minnesota Original. In addition to his ﬁne art practice, Mueller shoots both commercial and editorial work, and teaches iPhone photography classes. Before becoming a photographer, Mueller created several short ﬁlms and one feature ﬁlm, World and Time Enough, which won the Best Picture Award at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival before being distributed by Strand Releasing. His ﬁlms have shown in many domestic and international ﬁlm festivals, including Sundance, Rotterdam, and Outfest. As a ﬁlmmaker, Mueller received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Film Institute, the Bush Foundation, and several regional grants and fellowships.
Ann Fessler is an author, visual artist, filmmaker, and educator who taught at Rhode Island School of Design from 1993 until 2018. Her visual work has been shown widely in galleries, museums, and film festivals since the early 1980s. In 2003 she was awarded a Radcliffe Fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University to research and conduct interviews with women who lost children to adoption. The resulting book, The Girls Who Went Away, was chosen as one of the top five nonfiction books of 2006 by the National Book Critics Circle and received the Ballard Book Prize, given annually to a female author who makes a significant contribution to the dialogue about women's rights. In 2012, her documentary film A Girl Like Her was released by Women Make Movies, New York. The film combines archival footage from educational films and newsreels about dating, sex, "illegitimate" pregnancy, and adoption, with the voices of the mothers as they speak today about the long-term impact of surrender and silence on their lives.