In the summer of 1975, photographer Nicolas Nixon asked his wife Bebe if he could take a family portrait of her and her three sisters Heather, Mimi, and Laurie. Little did he know that that one snapshot was to become a prolific career-defining project spanning 40 years, where he would go on to document the lives of the Brown sisters in one immense body of work.
In the first image that Nixon captured, the sisters are depicted as young women. It’s a high summer’s day and they are casually dressed in t-shirts and trousers, posing on their family lawn. Their expressions consist of wary lowered brows with “the pressed line of a mouth” which demonstrates a kind yet defiant stance that is ready to challenge any eye that even tries to unravel the sacred dynamics between four sisters.
One year later, Nixon asked to take their portrait again at one of the sister’s graduation ceremonies, suggesting they arrange themselves in the same pose as the year before. After seeing the astounding result, Nixon asked the sisters if they would mind him taking a photo in the same way, once every year.
Forty years on and the series has been shown at international institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, which was to coincide with “the museum’s publication of the book “The Brown Sisters: Forty Years”.
The true identity of the sisters is never revealed to us apart from their family name, where Nixon’s words “Everyone won’t be here forever” have a global resonance – especially for those who have sisters or are close to their siblings. Nixon has managed to chronicle an entire generation in one body of work, memorializing these sisters and also highlighting the aging process in a beautiful and dignified way.
Nixon has consistently honoured their privacy, where right up until the most recent photograph their closeness is as palpable as that first snapshot taken on their lawn that day in 1975.