Rachael Rifkin
March 30, 2016 12:37 pm
Rachael Rifkin

People have always told me I look like my mom, but I wasn’t always sure I agreed (especially when I was a teenager and didn’t want to look like my mom). Either way it wasn’t that earthshattering of a revelation because, yeah, genetics. But when I recently saw a picture of my great-grandmother as a young woman, and noticed some resemblance, I began wondering how many of my relatives I looked like, and what other things I might share with them.

With the seed of an idea in mind, I asked a few of my friends to help me with an experiment. Together we chose eight photos of my relatives — five women and three men — to recreate. I got all gussied up, and we remade them. Ultimately, the experience turned into a story I wrote for Huffington Post and Bored Panda, which got picked up by other places like A Plus, Buzzfeed, and the Jewish Journal.

It was pretty exciting to have the photo project go viral, though that wasn’t my ultimate goal. I hoped the project would inspire people to think about the similarities and stories in their own families, and from the comments and emails I got, it seems some were.

Overall, I had a lot fun and got more out of the experience than I expected. Here are some things I learned from recreating eight photos of my relatives:


Friends are excellent collaborators on creative projects. 

You already know your friends are awesome, but you may not realize just how awesome until you see them in action. I was impressed with how good my friend in the film industry was at her job. Seeing her set up, adjust for lighting, and just generally be knowledgeable and skilled, was fun.

You also may find out your friends are good at more things than you even knew. I contacted my costume designer friend, because I thought she’d know someone who did makeup. She did (herself) and she was as good at makeup as she was at costuming.

I’m not as unique as I think I am, and that’s a good thing.

We all want to be special in some way — and yes, no two people are alike — but we really are more similar than different. This is especially comforting when we’re young and awkward and think we’re the only ones in the world who have ever felt a certain way. Turns out, there are lots of awkward, strange people in this world, and some of them might just happen to be related to you (shocking, I know). Though at first this may seem annoying, it’s actually pretty helpful.

Also, it’s probably not just that awkward teenage (20s? 30s?) stage that you have in common. Search long enough, and you’ll likely find comparable hobbies, quirks, careers, and personalities. It’s especially nice to discover you share traits with a relative you admire, like I did when I realized my grandfather and I had similar writing styles.


It is a strange feeling to look in a mirror and see someone else look back at you (especially if that someone is a relative).  

Weird and interesting, kind of like picturing yourself as one of the characters in a favorite book or movie. For a little while, in full costume and makeup, you get to live another life. Weirder still to think you really could have lived that other life, in the sense that someone with your DNA and traits did exist in another time and place. So equal parts acting and imagined reincarnation?

Expectations do not always match results.

Based on my love of all things retro, I thought I’d like dressing up like my circa 1940s cousin Thelma the best. But it just took way too long to shellac my hair into a 1940s/1950s hairdo for me to enjoy it.

On the other hand, I was surprised how much I enjoyed turning into my great-great grandfather, so much so that I almost didn’t mind the spirit gum the beard required (almost…). Of all my relatives, I expected to look the least like him. To come out looking kind of like him and a lot like my brother, was definitely better than I expected.

I thought I’d look the most like my mom. While I did look quite a bit like her, I resembled one of my grandmother’s first cousins the most (at the very top of this piece). I had no idea until my friend called me over to see some of the shots. After that, I couldn’t help identifying with her.

Everyone has a different opinion.

I started getting a lot of comments on the photo project when co-founder of APlus, Ashton Kutcher, referred to it in a Facebook post. The most interesting ones were opinions on who I looked like. Some people thought I looked like my cousin, some like my dad, some like my mom. Some people said I didn’t look like any of my relatives.

This provided me with one of the most enduring lessons of the project, that everyone perceives things a little differently and what other people think says more about them and their experiences than it does about you. A good lesson in general.

The point of the project wasn’t to look exactly like any one relative, it was to highlight the lasting effects of the many people who came before me, and before all of us.

All images courtesy of Rachael Rifkin. 

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