In 1975 Nicholas Nixon took a photograph of his wife Bebe (third from left) and her three sisters, Heather, Mimi, and Laurie Brown. It was the summertime and the family were all spending some quality time together at their home in New Canaan, Connecticut. Their casual, loose clothing and flowing hair all lend a light, airy feel to the picture. At the time, the girls were all young and ranged in age from 15 to 25 years old. Little did they know back then, but that first photograph set the tone for the rest of what was to come.
When one of the sisters graduated about a year later Nixon, who worked as a photography professor, brought along the picture he’d taken and showed it to all of them. When he asked them if they liked it, the girls were unanimous, they all loved the black and white photograph he’d captured of them and agreed to take another one. This time around he had an idea and asked them to all line up in the same order just as they had done the year before. They agreed, got in place, and he snapped the second image in what has become an ongoing series that is a major part of his life’s work.
The Brown sisters agreed that they would make it a point to try and meet up every year so that Nixon could take a picture of them. Over the next thirty five years they managed to do exactly that and by 2010 he had amassed 36 photos. The following year, in 2011, the photographer decided to put his project together and display it publicly.
Titled simply “The Brown Sisters” the collection has proven to be a massive hit with audiences and critics alike. It’s been displayed in galleries around the world, including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and people cannot get enough of it. Viewer’s reactions range from subdued appreciation to intensely emotional as the sisters grow up and go from young girls to mature women right before our very eyes.
It’s not only their transformation, it’s also the way the sisters gaze straight at the camera that makes Nixon’s work so poignant and touching. It’s like we’re offered this tiny glimpse into their lives and from that teeny peek our imaginations run wild with it. We read into every detail that catches our eye and make up a story to fill in all the blanks. The effect that it has is really cool and once you check out the photographs you’ll understand what I’m trying to say! Watch the video to see the Brown sisters through the years and enjoy.
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