October 5, 2014

40 Pictures 40 Years [Updated]

Four sisters have their picture taken together every year for 40 years (1975-2014)

1975.jpg
1975

2014.jpg
2014


Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

-- Auden

Forty Portraits in Forty Years Nicholas Nixon was visiting his wife’s family when, “on a whim,” he said,

he asked her and her three sisters if he could take their picture. It was summer 1975, and a black-and-white photograph of four young women — elbows casually attenuated, in summer shorts and pants, standing pale and luminous against a velvety background of trees and lawn — was the result. A year later, at the graduation of one of the sisters, while readying a shot of them, he suggested they line up in the same order. After he saw the image, he asked them if they might do it every year. “They seemed O.K. with it,” he said; thus began a project that has spanned almost his whole career. The series, which has been shown around the world over the past four decades, will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art, coinciding with the museum’s publication of the book “The Brown Sisters: Forty Years” in November.
Who are these sisters? We’re never told (though we know their names: from left, Heather, Mimi, Bebe and Laurie; Bebe, of the penetrating gaze, is Nixon’s wife).
.... As we come to the last pictures, we feel the final inevitability that, as Nixon says, “Everyone won’t be here forever.” The implication hovers in the darkening of the palette and in the figures drawing together, huddling as if to stay afloat. To watch a person change over time can trick us into thinking we share an intimacy, and yet somehow we don’t believe that these poses and expressions are the final reflection of the Brown sisters. The sisters allow us to observe them, but we are not allowed in. The reluctance shows particularly in the early pictures: the wary lowered brow, the pressed line of a mouth. Sometimes a body’s stance or the angle of the jaw is downright grudging. These subjects are not after attention, a rare quality in this age when everyone is not only a photographer but often his own favorite subject.

Posted by gerardvanderleun at October 5, 2014 11:09 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Well, they still look unhappy, don't they?

Posted by: Rob De Witt at October 5, 2014 9:51 PM

The photos are worth thousands of words.

1975 — they didn't know what lie ahead for them, how could they?

2014 — roads travelled, lessons learned; thirty-nine years and they weren't all good years, were they?

1975, my grandchildren. 2014 my contemporaries.

Posted by: chasmatic at October 5, 2014 11:26 PM

Just think if they had managed to smile!

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at October 6, 2014 7:16 AM

That's pretty brutal.

Posted by: pbird at October 6, 2014 7:19 AM

Despite their refusal to smile these gals should realize just how fortunate they are that they are all still here.

Posted by: jack at October 6, 2014 7:43 AM

You know what I'm going to say, right?

Posted by: Will at October 6, 2014 8:08 AM

They look to me as being man haters. Pissed-off dykes.

Posted by: Terry at October 6, 2014 8:08 AM

Very interesting... gives one a sense of mortality..

Posted by: Bill Henry at October 6, 2014 3:22 PM

Holy cow. I never knew there were so many misogynists. I looked at the photos and got a good vibe about the women, young and as they aged.
'Tis true, I have had bad luck with women in the past, problems caused by them or by me. I was a jerk back in the day. Uh, no response needed on that one, thank you.
God finally put a good woman in my life and it is the best thing that ever happened to both of us. The bad days we have now are like the good days each of us used to have.

You guys squawking about the women bad this, not good that, let me humbly suggest you look in the mirror? We usually reap what we sow. What'd you expect, a free lunch?

OK soapbox off.

Posted by: chasmatic at October 7, 2014 12:41 AM

Judging from the scowls, demeanor and dress in the first picture it appears to me that these women have already ingested whole the feminist puke. The latter photo sans even a hint of joy seems to make my case.

Posted by: Denny at October 7, 2014 8:27 AM

I'm with Chasmatic on this one. Read the link and google Bebe Nixon.

Posted by: Van der Leun at October 7, 2014 8:39 AM

I hear what you and Chas are saying, Mr. Van der Leun, but geez, you cant' buy a smile from these women, and it's the same with all their pictures through the years. Maybe they were told not to smile for the sake of the pictures or maybe they have bad teeth or something.

Posted by: D S Craft at October 7, 2014 8:57 AM

As you intuit I don't think that stems from the sisters but from the photographer in the main. I think it got started that way and he simply reminded them so that it would track from year to year after he got rolling.


The sisters, you will note, choose the shot year after year.

Posted by: Van der Leun at October 7, 2014 9:26 AM

Oh, but I like their solemn expressions. It's protective.

Posted by: Deborah HH at October 7, 2014 2:38 PM

A very challenging set of pictures. If they make you see things you weren't looking for, and do end-runs around all your biases, then that's good.

Or, instead of the Brown Sisters, just call it New England Gothic. Not iconic, but the dour determination still comes through.

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