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© Nicholas Nixon, 2022
The Brown Sisters is undoubtedly Nicholas Nixon’s most celebrated work. Exhibited at institutions such as MoMA in New York and discussed at great lengths in periodicals such as The New York Times, the series—a record of the Brown Sister’s annual appointment with Nixon’s camera— has become one of the most important references in the recent history of portraiture.
The ensemble began in 1975 with an image taken of the sisters during one of Bebe’s —the photographer’s wife— family reunions. The series maintains some formal traits from that period, including the four sisters always being placed in the same order, and the tonal and descriptive richness that characterizes Nixon’s mastery of the large format camera.
Aside from its artistic merit, one of the series’ greatest achievements is how it manifests the power of the photographic medium to reflect on time and identity. In each image there is an affective and corporeal continuity between the sisters. Their physical resemblance within each photo is analogous to the resemblance between each print in the series, which registers their transformation throughout the years. Thus, the instant that is miraculously rescued by the camera in each of the photographs refers to the series as a whole, to a timeframe that is still accessed through every yearly gathering.