National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Brown Sisters Nicholas Nixon (artist)
American, born 1947
The Brown Sisters, 1984
gelatin silver print
sheet: 20.2 x 25.2 cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
Patrons' Permanent Fund
2001.67.174
Not on View
From the Tour: Modern Portraits in Photography
Object 13 of 13

In an age of fast-paced, intrusive media imagery, Nicholas Nixon's photography stands as a model of slow and sensitive camera work. Using a view camera mounted on a large tripod—the equipment casts a hulking shadow in the photograph you see here—Nixon (born 1947) has devoted his attention to family and friends, neighborhoods in his home city of Boston, residents at an elder home, and people dying of AIDS, among other subjects.

The annual portraits Nixon has made since 1975 of his wife Beverly (Bebe) Brown and her three sisters are by far the most extensive of his serial projects. At some point each year, Bebe (third from left) and her sisters Heather, Mimi, and Laurie (again from left) gather at a family event and pose, always in the same order. Subtle relations among the sisters suggest themselves in each composition—here, for instance, a motherly assurance in the way Bebe circles Mimi's waist and Laurie's shoulder with her arms—but it is above all the changes over time that fascinate us: shifts in hairstyle, skin texture, and sense of self. As we have seen elsewhere on this tour (with Stieglitz and Sander, for instance), "composite" portraiture constitutes an important aspect of modernist photography. In the case of the Brown Sisters portraits, the process is open-ended, pointed always toward the next encounter; yet the cumulative effect of these time-lapse images is intensely commemorative, underscoring as it does our own mortality.

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