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Seeing Double, Double Vision, Double Exposures, Trick Photography, Special Effects

Abel J. Whalen (active Michigan, 1862-1897)
“A Chance Meeting” (Double Self-Portrait)
Albumen print cabinet card, circa 1895

At various times Whalen operated studios in Holly, Charlotte, Saranac, Albion and Detroit, Michigan. This is one of several surviving multiple portraits and self-portraits that were discovered in an album — almost certainly one kept by the photographer and his family. In this example, two Abel Whalens chance upon each other. The somewhat wary eye contact between the two seems natural, adding greatly to the realism of the scene.


There is something a little unsettling about chancing upon your exact double. In fact, the idea that every living person or animal has a mystical double comes from German folklore, where such an apparition is known as a “doppelgänger.” Usually doppelgängers are thought to be invisible; seeing one’s double was considered a sign of impending death. Doppelgängers appeared in popular literature of the 19th century, including the novel Die Elixiere des Teufels, (“The Devil’s Elixir”) by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1815-1816) and The Double (1846) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.


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Research on Abel J. Whalen courtesy of Dave Tinder. Thanks to Renae Satterley for research assistance on doppelgangers.
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