Family reunions can sometimes be very boring, tiring and exhausting. During one of his visits to his in-laws, photographer Nicholas Nixon had the idea to do something special, he saw his wife and her sisters as inspiration. None of them had any idea what the development would be in the next 4 decades.
Nixon was bored during a family dinner at his in-laws’ house. So he decided to do something about it. Not a bad idea…right? He asked his wife, Bebe, and her three sisters if it was okay to take a photo of them posing in the garden. Check out the rest of the stunning and poignant photos below.
The sisters didn’t notice that Nixon was just bored, so they just stood around and posed for the camera. They stood side by side, shoulders close together, while the photographer took the photos. As you can see, the photos turned out very nice and professional. Nixon, the sisters and his wife really liked the photo and decided to repeat the same photo every year during their family celebration. The exact same filter should be used and they should be in the same arrangement. Basically, the first photo was taken in 1974, but unfortunately nothing came of it, so they didn’t start documenting it until 1975.
An artistic element that recurs in this picture is time. In the photos of the younger years, we see that the sisters have remained virtually the same, but in later years notice This is, of course, logical. What also changes is the way they dress. You see that the style of clothing also changes over time.
This simple idea of Nixon’s nevertheless attracted the attention of a number of prominent artists and major cultural institutions. Nixon gained widespread recognition for his work through an exhibition of his work in New York at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). The name of the exhibition was “Nicholas Nixon; 40 Years of the Brown Sisters.” Although he had begun taking the photos in 1974, he didn’t reveal any of it until 2014. It’s incredible what the rest of the photos look like.
The sisters were gearing up to ring in the new decade by taking another commemorative photo. The top song of the year in ’79 was My Sharona by The Knack, so they could’ve very well been listening to it as they posed. It’s so interesting to see that, even 40 years later, the outfits the women are wearing are still fashions you could see someone wearing today. It just goes to show that neither style nor sisterly love has changed all that much.
The photojournalism that Nixon did was born out of boredom, as Nixon recounted in an interview. “Normally we used to go to Bebe’s parents’ house on weekends, and that was getting boring. The obligatory eating together and chatting. So I suggested we do something new and fun, and that was photography.” When they started taking pictures, Heather was 23, Mimi was 15, Bebe was 25 and Laurie was 21, which was the perfect age to document the change in aging. Curious about 1981? Then be eager to see the next page.
The sisters were portrayed as outspoken girls who enjoy nature and the open landscape. None of the four could have imagined that this project would one day become an exhibition in one of the most famous museums in the world. Of all Nixon’s projects, this is his most famous; he was now able to turn his hobby into a profession. Even though the sisters had agreed and saw nothing wrong with it, there was one thing he hadn’t told them….
The photos became a beautiful collection, but Nixon kept the identity of the sisters to himself for a while. He wanted to do this in a professional manner, separating the people of his work from his private life. The decision to keep the sisters anonymous was made, of course, for the sake of artistic representation. As long as there was no name attached, people only looked at the art and not at why they were being photographed….
Nicholas Nixon had two children with his wife Bebe. This was not a secret, because she was his wife, but about the life of the other sisters was not known. People looked into the eyes of the sisters and became curious about their lives, who they were. Of course this is understandable, this is just human instinct. Although people did not know the women, they became curious and some even felt a kind of resemblance to the Brown sisters….
People wondered why they were photographed and what they did in their daily lives. There was no information about that and viewers could only guess. The sisters’ lives remained a mystery, which probably made it even more interesting for the public. They began to use their imagination and naturally look more at the photo, creating a sense of resemblance that is one of the most poignant elements in these photos.
Nixon: “We are all aware that time passes, but when it does, we don’t always notice it directly.”. When we saw the photo of the sisters, everyone realized that a year had passed. In some photos, you can see that the sisters are standing a little closer to each other than in other photos. In this particular year of 1985, they are standing close to each other.
The women didn’t change much each year, I think that’s one of the reasons everyone was so interested in the pictures. The photo below from 1986 is a special one because the Brown sisters are not looking serious in this photo, they are mostly looking straight into the camera. In this photo they are smiling a little bit, as if something funny happened, or Nixon, the photographer smiled at them. Viewers thought this was a nice change from the usually somber look they showed in the photos.
Nixon shared more about how he worked and how he managed to capture those photo moments well. He told in an interview that it didn’t get serious until 1975, which was the year Laurie was most in the picture and had graduated from high school. It wasn’t until the sisters asked him to take their picture that he remembered he had taken one the year before. This is where his idea to repeat the same thing every year for 40 years was born.
He had this wonderful idea in his head and Nixon was eager to develop it. The sisters had agreed at the time, not knowing that it would develop into something great. The sisters are very close and just thought it would be great to do a photo together or not? Do we possibly see something else in the photos? A quarrel?
The most fascinating thing about the photos is, of course, to see how the ladies age during these 40 years. Besides the natural changes in the faces and skin, you can also see how the clothes change. You don’t think about it yourself, but when it’s so clear in a photo, you see it immediately.
Some fans noted that this project took a surprisingly long time. Even Nixon talked about it at times, “We always joked about it, but everyone knew it was my intention to go on with it for a very long time.” He also occasionally made sure to make small changes. Once, for example, to photograph a sister or him in the middle. In the end, it stayed that way.
In this photo from 1991, taken 16 years after the first photo, you can actually see how the sisters begin to grow older. Nevertheless, their private life was a secret for the viewers, although they knew that BeBe had become a mother of several children. Viewers think that the sisters look very good and really haven’t aged quickly over the years. They have good genes. In this photo that Nixon took, it looks like he captured something sad.
The previous photo was very sad, but this photo from 1992 shows another, happier moment. In life there are always ups and downs, luckily this photo shows one of the shining moments. You can see that Heather and Mimi are standing hand in hand and Laurie is a bit more reserved. She is usually standing with her body a little further away from her sisters. Maybe there was some jealousy involved towards the other sisters?
This picture was supposedly taken in summer. However, it doesn’t look very warm, the sisters are wearing thick sweaters. Maybe it was a cooler evening. Although the sky looks dark and gray in the picture, the sisters look very good. They have no smiles on their faces, but their eyes are shining.
Characteristic of this project is, of course, that the photos were deliberately avoided make-up and styling. The result is that the photos are as pure as possible. The sisters came along quite naturally in their everyday clothes. They also didn’t put on makeup for the photos. Of course, the photos are more interesting because they show bags under the eyes and crow’s feet. “We just wore whatever we felt like wearing that day,” BeBe says.
In this picture you can see the close bond between the sisters. They are holding hands and laughing. They are staring at the camera and you can see real affection and love for each other in their eyes. You can also clearly see now that there is a real age difference between the sisters. The older sisters have slightly saggier skin folds than the younger sisters. Despite the fact that life is hard sometimes, the bond between the sisters is still strong, it helped them get through everything. The photos of Nicholas have only captured this….
The models for this project are, of course, Nixon’s sisters-in-law. He was asked about his family. Didn’t he want to do an experiment like this with his family? Nicholas didn’t know why he had never thought of it himself. He had no brothers or sisters, so he didn’t think about it. His family dynamics were not the same as his wife’s. He also stated that he thought of his wife’s sisters as his own.
Nixon explained that as an only child, he loved being taken in by this family. It is a down-to-earth and loving family. As an added bonus, this project also made the bond between the sisters and Nixon even stronger. “When I look back at about 30 photos, it’s like looking at my own sisters,” Nixon says. “They are a part of my love.”
As mentioned above, Nicholas became better known through the project with the sisters-in-law. But he was also known for his beautiful black and white photographs. He mainly photographed landscapes and people. Nixon liked the clean expression and black and white was a great way to super capture that.
In 2006, the Museum of Modern Art became aware of this work by Nixon and asked if he would like to exhibit at the museum. After this exhibition, it was also on display at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Wort, Texas. Nixon gained an enormous amount of fame through this work, and that is entirely justified because of what an extraordinary portrait series it is.
Of course, there were a number of preconditions for the Brown sisters before they took the photo. The conditions were that the photo should be as pure, real and natural as possible. The viewer doesn’t have to make much of an effort to notice this, all the photos have a kind of serene calm in them and the women pose as they feel at that moment and who they are: no “made” smile or special attire.
People’s curiosity about the sisters grew. All that could be seen in the photos of the sisters was the love and close relationship that the sisters have. The lens captured the eternal relationship of the sisters. The sisters kept their personalities well hidden, the only thing they revealed was the way they dressed, their hairstyle and how they looked.
One of the sisters doesn’t seem to mind the change of seasons; while everyone else is wearing warmer-looking shirts, one of them is still wearing a tank top. The sisters look quite serious, which they usually do, but they also have a confident posture as they stare directly into the photographer’s lens. They also stand close together in a loving embrace, suggesting a sense of sisterhood and unity.
One trend that keeps popping up these years is naturalness. But as the years go by, a certain softness also comes back. You can tell that the sisters in the photo care a lot about each other. This photo from 2003 shows Heather lovingly placing her hand on Mimi’s head. The sisters look relaxed and nothing is getting in their way.
There are several reasons why this picture stands out from 2004. Generally, you can tell what year the photo is from by the style of clothing, but here you see something different. If you look closely, you can see that there is a phone hanging from Heather’s pants. Times changed, in the beginning, you couldn’t tell when these pictures were taken. But this was the first picture you can see.
In this photo, you can see the three sisters looking into the lens, while Laurie is looking to the right. Her face is scared, we will never know what was going on. The other three look happy, even though BeBe has her arm around Laurie, you can sense that something was going on. Maybe they had a disagreement about something?
In this picture you can clearly see that there has been an evolution in terms of clothing. They used to wear more neutral unisex clothes, but in this picture we see something more feminine. The clothes are more feminine and daring, Mimi even shows some cleavage. Something she hadn’t done before. And again, Laurie didn’t look happy. It looked like she was going through a hard time at that moment.
The feminine side shown in 2006 was unfortunately short-lived. In 2007, the sisters were back to wearing their ‘normal’ clothes, the simple neutral style. Since they didn’t wear makeup, it was good for the viewer to see how the women’s faces had changed over the years.
Mimi is not herself in this picture, at least that’s what we assume. She’s trying to hide behind BeBe so she’s not completely in the picture. Mimi’s appearance has changed the most over the years. She had cut her hair short four years earlier, which made her look a little older. But it suits her very well, don’t you think?
One year the changes in the sisters are great, the other year they are minimal. For example, this year some of the sisters seem to look older and have lost some weight. We all get old, so that’s not a bad thing at all. What you notice is that regardless of age, the bond between the sisters is still as close as ever, maybe even closer than it used to be.
Have you noticed that Heather, Mimi and BeBe very often have the same facial expression in the photos? While Laurie is often the one who has a certain pose or expression. With her over the years you notice a sense of anxiety, sadness and tension. But this year, it looks like she’s back at peace with everything. Of course, this is our opinion and we hope that she had a peaceful and happy life.
In some photos the sisters look like good acquaintances and in some photos they are very close. For example, in this picture Heather and Mimi look like strangers. While BeBe and Laurie are very close to each other. Their heads are touching and they have their arms around each other. It looks like the sisters are divided into two groups.
In contrast to the previous image, this image again shows four sisters who care deeply for each other. Their bodies are touching and they are hugging each other to show that they have an intense bond with each other. They are enjoying every moment together. You can also see that Laurie has a happier look than in the previous photos.
This picture mainly shows the quality of the camera. In 40 years, technology has evolved and with it, of course, the cameras. This photo was taken with a nice camera, which of course was more advanced than the camera 40 years ago. You can see that the sisters are older and have had a long life, but still this is a beautiful photo.
For 40 years the Brown sisters and Nixon have been making beautiful pictures. After 40 years, the sisters thought it was enough and decided to stop. This perfect picture is the conclusion of the beautiful series and a fine work of art. The sisters can look back on their paintings and together with Nixon they are very happy about this beautiful piece of art!