Jill (younger sister) sent this to Erin (older sister) and me the other day. Forty Portraits in Forty Years is a photo series by Nicholas Nixon of his wife and her sisters every year for forty years– I can’t stop looking at these photographs! In all honesty, my first reaction was sadness because I quickly scrolled down watching them age in 10 seconds. Yikes, life is fast! Once I read the story behind the project and looked slowly through the photographs, I totally fell in love with the series. In 1975 social media did not exist, which means special moments captured on film were usually only shared with your family and close friends. It amazes me that people started things and kept them going for their own preservation … Who imagined, forty years ago, one photograph would start something special and circulate all over the world? Here are some excerpts from the article in The New York Times Magazine:
Throughout this series, we watch these women age, undergoing life’s most humbling experience. While many of us can, when pressed, name things we are grateful to Time for bestowing upon us, the lines bracketing our mouths and the loosening of our skin are not among them. So while a part of the spirit sinks at the slow appearance of these women’s jowls, another part is lifted: They are not undone by it. We detect more sorrow, perhaps, in the eyes, more weight in the once-fresh brows. But the more we study the images, the more we see that aging does not define these women. Even as the images tell us, in no uncertain terms, that this is what it looks like to grow old, this is the irrefutable truth, we also learn: This is what endurance looks like.
With each passing year, the sisters seem to present more of a united front. Earlier assertions of their individuality — the arms folded across the chest, the standing apart — give way to a literal leaning on one another, as if independence is no longer such a concern. We see what goes on between the sisters in their bodies, particularly their limbs. A hand clasps a sister’s waist, arms embrace arms or are slung in casual solidarity over a shoulder. A palm steadies another’s neck, reassuring. The cumulative effect is dizzying and powerful.
The sisters’ privacy has remained of utmost concern to the artist, and it shows in the work. Year after year, up to the last stunning shot with its triumphant shadowy mood, their faces and stances say, Yes, we will give you our image, but nothing else.
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Photographs of the Brown sisters by Nicholas Nixon are curtesy of The New York Times Magazine