Sisters share a very precious bond of sisterhood, which is unlike any other relationship. Being a sister is akin to being part of an exquisite club where every girl is essential, and the bond is auspicious. A sisterhood bond can be between two or more girls. In literal terms, sisterhood refers to the relationship between women connected by blood, religion, opinion, or trade. It is a community exclusively for women to feel empowered, loved, cared for, and worthy. Whoever has a sister will agree that it is an absolute boon to have someone to turn to whenever you feel down and need a shoulder to lean on.
Those who don’t have a sister dream to have one at some point in life. It does not matter if the bond of sisterhood is between biological sisters or those connected by faith or friendship. What matters is that they remain honest with each other and have their back always. A similar bond is shared by the four sisters we will introduce to you today. Famously known as the Brown Sisters, the four dynamic ladies decided to share their lives with the world in a peculiar and unconventional manner- through capturing a picture every year in the same style and pose. You will get exclusive insight into the forty year-three years of their lives with this priceless collection of forty-three images. Find out how these sisters have matured by the time they took their last photo together in 2018.
Hartford, Connecticut 1976
It all started in the summer of 1975. Acclaimed photographer Nicholas ‘Nick’ Nixon was married to one of the Brown Sisters, BeBe. One day, Nixon visited his in-laws and came up with the idea to have all the sisters pose for him and capture a family photo. The four sisters, Laurie, BeBe, Heather, and Mimi, agreed, and they all lined up for the photo. Nixon was thrilled as the photo turned out impressive. That’s when he decided to make it a family tradition to capture a photo of the four sisters together every single year. And he actually did that for the next forty years, documenting every minor change in the sisters’ appearance and the various ups and downs that their relationship underwent.
In this photo taken in 1976, the sisters adopted a relaxed pose and are seen casually standing in the summertime sunshine. They look comfortable in each other’s company, which reveals a lot about their mutual camaraderie. Many say that the bond of sisterhood could be a complex one if all the members aren’t sincere with each other. Here we don’t observe any such thing as the girls look content. They are biologically related, which means they have grown up together, so they already share a unique bond. By agreeing to get themselves clicked in the same pose every year, they show how confident they are about their relationship status. They know nothing can break them apart, and therefore, without thinking twice they decided to capture their life journey on Nixon’s digital camera.
Cambridge Massachusetts 1977
This photo is from the year 1977. The girls are looking straight into the digital camera. But this year, they look a little bit pensive. They aren’t carrying any attire like they did the previous year. But, they exude an aura of confidence and positivity. But we cannot help think that some of them have other things on their minds and aren’t actually in the moment. You won’t believe that a few years back, in 1974, Nick Nixon photographed his wife BeBe with her three siblings, but he discarded the negative because he wasn’t pleased with the result. The following year, in July 1975, he tried again and was somewhat pleased with the result. He kept the image but didn’t make it a part of the Brown Sisters’ photo series.
At the time, Mimi was 15, Laurie 21, Heather 23, and BeBe was 25 years old. In June 1976, Laurie Brown graduated from college and celebrated the happy occasion. Nixon suggested that they all appear in a photo together in the same manner as they have been doing for two years. This attempt was very successful, and Nick was happy with the result. He then convinced them to get this done every year in the same month. Initially, the Brown Sisters were reluctant but eventually gave in to Nixon’s demand. Now it was time to settle the terms of the series.
Harwich Port, Massachusetts 1978
According to Nick Nixon, he suggested that the sister appears in the same order, always. He even decided who stood where in the photo. Heather would be on the far left, followed by Mimi, BeBe in the center, and Laurie on the far right. They jointly agreed as the order seemed logical. Another aspect that Nick didn’t want to change was that the photo would be made with an 8×10″ view camera fixed on a tripod and captured on a black and white film negative.
Now let’s dissect this photo. It is the year 1978. The Brown Sisters appear a bit less comfortable this year. Compared to their previous years’ photos, this shot closes in on their faces a bit more. We can easily see their young faces and understand that they have headed into the world of maturity and practicality. One thing we cannot understand is why all the sisters have a frown in this photo.
For your information, the Museum of Modern Art has been exhibiting the Brown Sisters photo series since 2006. The museum authorities acquired the series in two forms- as 20×24′ enlargement and as lusciously tactile contact prints- from Nixon. The exhibition displays all forty images in larger prints, so this exhibition of the Brown Sisters is different. This museum is identified as one of the most influential and biggest museums of modern art worldwide.
Marblehead, Massachusetts 1979
Now we are in the year 1979. The Brown Sisters have started to determine their own costume choices. One of them has chosen a formal costume, and another one has decided to wear pants. one sister is holding her arms closer to her body, and the other is in a more relaxed and composed posture. Everyone’s body language is different in this picture, which leaves the viewer confused regarding what would be going through their minds.
When the photo series became a worldwide phenomenon, Nicholas Nixon was thronged by media reps for his thoughts and opinion on this unique collection. In his first-ever statement about this series, which he made the year these portraits were made public, Nick remarked, “the world is infinitely more interesting than any of my opinions about it.” We think he was too modest about his opinions. Because the portraits depict how brilliantly his camera captured this infinitely fascinating world flawlessly. For us, the viewers, these photos represent silent records of the times gone by. There are so many shades of emotional and visual gray that promote a never-ending appreciation for Nick’s art. as far as the sisters are concerned, this series symbolizes life, commitment, youth, aging, and bonding.
East Greenwich, Rhode Island 1980
This is the year 1980, and we can see how extensively sisterly love is on display in this photo. The four young ladies are embracing one another. What do you think they want to indicate with this slightly different pose from their previous photos? We think that they tell the world how closely knit their bond still is despite that they are growing older. Another unique aspect of this photo is that we see shy smiles on their faces, while previously, their faces were solemn. Maybe they were camera shy before, and now they feel comfortable facing the lens.
Or it just could be the bond of sisterhood. It makes everything so easy for those who share it. They start feeling powerful, liberated, and confident when they are with each other. There’s a perfect understanding of others’ personalities and how everyone will react in a particular situation. It definitely takes two to tango, and the same goes for sisterhood. Everyone involved has to contribute on a personal level to make the bond stronger and everlasting. As Amy Li said that sisterhood is all about “having a sister is like having a best friend you can’t get rid of. You know whatever you do, they’ll still be there.” that’s how a pure bond of sisterhood is supposed to function. And we do observe that the Brown Sisters share a certain kind of sync in their relationship that gets reflected from their portraits.
Cincinnati, Ohio 1981
A new decade has started, and it is summertime. The sisters are back together for their annual portrait, and we couldn’t help say that they all look ravishing. The bodies look wholesome while they all are sporting leaner legs this time around. Their body language exudes confidence, and the shyness is wholly gone. They appear assured, and it seems that they have realized their images will be shared with the world one day. There is a unique kind of finesse in their posture and overall attitude in this photo. The usual rawness that we had become accustomed to is not visible now. Whether it is a good sign or not, we leave it on you to decide. But did they have an idea that this series will eventually be turned into a book? Well, it actually did. Nicholas Nixon published them in a book titled The Brown Sisters: Forty Years, which made them a worldwide celebrity of sorts.
We think this newly found confidence must have made their sisterhood bond even stronger as they all look empowered and ready to take on the world. Zoe Kravitz said that “once a woman finds sisterhood, there is nothing stronger,” and we think it is true. Research shows that growing up with a sister can help develop an extensive range of communication skills, including social skills, negotiation skills, and compromising. Even conflicts between sisters promote healthy development between them.
Ipswich, Massachusetts 1982
we know many of you must be wondering who these sisters are. Honestly, we also don’t know much about them, apart from the fact that they are biological sisters, and the one with the penetrating gaze is BeBe, the photographer Nick Nixon’s wife. We also know their names. But there’s no other clue available about them. Could they be Irish or Yankee? Never mind, at the moment, all we care about is how they look in this photo from 1982.
The sisters are looking directly at the camera as if they are trying to connect with the viewer. But did you notice that their gazes are very well guarded and, to a great extent, restrained? This photo was clicked in Ipswich, which means the sisters have transferred to colder climates. But they nonetheless showcase a sense of self-confidence and surety. In this particular picture, the Brown Sisters are all bundled up, perhaps trying to let the cold wind sweep away through their hair. We have been noticing since the first photo is that getting them all to smile would have been a great challenge for Nixon. Even though they aren’t smiling always, they never look uncomfortable or wary. There is a unique aura of serenity surrounding these girls almost always. It is because of the sisterhood bond they all share. Isadora James said that “a sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit, a golden thread to the meaning of life.” We believe that the Brown Sisters have found meaning in their lives through sisterhood.
Allston, Massachusetts 1983
This portrait of the Brown Sisters was made in 1983. This time, they showcase a well-coordinated look. They appear united and are clinging to one another very tightly, which is a surprising twist to their usual pose. The sunlight is hitting their faces, and the wind is whipping around their hair, but they don’t seem to care. All they are caring for at this moment is that embrace and the feeling of belongingness. A unique sense of contentedness they all are sharing in this photo is reflected clearly from their faces.
Nicholas Nixon once stated that this series had become a marker of the years passed for many of us.
We are all aware of time passing and us not being aware of it while it’s passing. So seeing the sisters, for a lot of people, gives them a reliable marker that a year has passed…The series grew out of boredom. We’d go down to visit BeBe’s parents on weekends. It was kind of boring, a lot of socializing, we were expected to show up for dinner every day … Out of a friendly desperation, I said: ‘Let’s take a picture,” and the rest is history.Nicholas Nixon
An interesting detail Nixon shared about this series is that it grew out of boredom.
Truro, Massachusetts 1984
The Brown Sisters were on the trip to Cape Cod in Truro, Massachusetts, when they posed for the year 1984’s photo for their pathbreaking series. Each of them is sporting a more modern and mature look. They aren’t the young, shy, coltish girls anymore. Since we don’t know what was happening in each sister’s life, we cannot comment anymore on their thought process while taking this photo.
But, one thing is clear that this is the most intimate and tender portrait of the sisters in this series thus far. They have grown older, but we believe that their sisterhood bond has grown deeper. Their expressions are much softer than before as if they have become more social and uncomplaining. That’s the magic of sisterhood. It transforms you all together as if you in the company of your mother, your protector, and your savior. Oprah Winfrey believes that a sister is like a mother. She once said that her sister is “the mother I never had, she is the sister everybody would want. She is the friend that everybody deserves. I don’t know a better person.”
Let’s give credit to the US-based photographer Nicholas Nixon for making us confront the significance of living in the moment, family ties, and acknowledging the passing of time with these four fresh-faced young females staring at the camera with varying degrees of emotions.
Allston, Massachusetts 1985
It is 1985, and one more time, the sisters are here with their signature posture. They have chosen their attire wisely this year, and it seems as if they have tried to make this photo different from their previous clicks. Still, they aren’t smiling, but their powerful bond is evident from their glowing eyes and beaming faces. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. In sisterhood, girls are empowered because every sister becomes an essential part of the gang. Each of them matters for all of the group members, and they all know that even if they are left alone in the world by all others, their sister(s) will always have their back. Being supported is a primary characteristic of sisterhood, and it allows you to stand upright and lead your life on your own terms without getting intimidated.
Would you believe that there is a 10-year difference between the oldest and youngest Brown sisters? Surprisingly, Nixon has captured them so that this difference isn’t dramatically evident even after all these years. We started in the mid-70s, and it is the mid-80s now, and Mimi still looks like a teen despite being 21. BeBe being the eldest, although she looks a bit paler and experienced than others, she doesn’t look her age.
Cambridge, Massachusetts 1986
With this photo, we have completed a decade of the Brown Sisters’ photo series. This must be a great challenge for the girls and Nick to show up every year and recreate the same pose repeatedly. But, their resolve and excitement are evident from every single portrait. One aspect that has remained consistent is that they have remained mysterious so far. We don’t know a lot about their personalities or lifestyle, etc. Their appearance also doesn’t reveal much about their personal lives. This year, BeBe looks softer and more relaxed than in previous years. Her looks resemble a lot of Heather’s. on the other hand, Mimi and Laurie look inquisitive and defiant in this particular portrait. There are several intriguing subtexts to this collection. Nixon is one of them. He is the only person engaging with a close-knit set of siblings and the only outsider who knows almost everything about them. We believe that this aura of mystery surrounding the Brown Sisters has made this collection all the more fascinating for us. In our opinion, it is a beautifully executed version of a family portrait, but it doesn’t belong to a traditional photo album but on gallery walls. Isn’t it extraordinary that we all can relate to these four strangers and find some semblance of our lives in their journey?
Chatham, Massachusetts 1987
It is 1987, and time is taking a toll on the Brown Sisters. Still, the resolve and willpower haven’t weakened. All the sisters look strong-willed in this portrait captured on Chatham. They look into the digital camera with an understated defiant attitude, which forces us to consider the ideas behind their gentle visages. The girls have shown us a plethora of emotions so far. In some photos, they appeared direct and, in some, a little bit aggressive. They have been aggressive and vulnerable in a few. But, we have just started our journey. There is a long road ahead. And we are excited about witnessing a range of other emotions in the upcoming pictures.
In Nixon’s series The Brown Sisters, the eponymous Brown clan stand in the same order, and it generates a feeling of overwhelming gratitude that these girls did that for over forty years. All this, for the sake of art and to relay it to the viewers that every minute of your life matters. It is like they are asking us to make our lives meaningful. When you view the entire collection in one go, you will be struck by how the similarities between the images end at the composition. It is like entering a parallel world altogether where time is compressed.
Wellesley, Massachusetts 1988
Now we are headed to another milestone. The next decade is just a few years away. The sisters are flashing a refined smile and giving Nixon’s camera a glance that is unlike any other picture of theirs we have seen yet. Maybe they were having fun that day or something good must have happened in their lives, which is why they appear so content and happy. We cannot determine what could be causing these refined smiles, but we are happy that the Brown Sisters are beaming with joy.
Or it could just be their sisterhood bond. Science has long established that sisterhood does amazing things to your health. It not only positively impacts your physical self, but spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically too. So, we can say that sisterhood goes beyond the physical realm and brings your entire self at peace inside out. Sisters provide each other the much-needed emotional support, which means you are being heard, understood, and acknowledged. This is amongst the main therapeutic aspects of sisterhood that we all may not be aware of or have ignored. Sisterhood has healing properties, and its positive impact is evident from the faces of the Brown Sisters. This collection is like proof of the therapeutic features of sisterhood.
Cambridge, Massachusetts 1989
It is 1989, and this time one of the Brown Sisters has varied her pose a little bit. She is heading behind the other and asking us to search for her in the portrait. Their delicate smiles are missing, though. This could be an indication that this year was a difficult one for them. Let’s give credit to Nixon’s technically superlative photography skills, echoing the norms of the typical family snapshot that, in his own words, has become “an annual rite of passage” not just for him but his subjects too. Interestingly, their identities remain a mystery, but the series poignantly speaks of the sisters’ enduring relatedness. Their portraits appear as an extensive reference to our own families, communities, and the bond of sisterhood.
We are still surprised at how bold this decision of Nixon was because the topic of mortality must have crossed his mind. This project could have been affected if one of the sisters passes away. The collection would have to reach an abrupt conclusion in that case. Talking about this aspect, Nixon said that they occasionally discussed this issue and laughed about it.
We joke about it! But everybody knows that certainly my intention would be that we would go on forever, no matter what. To just take three, and then two, and then one. The joke question is: what happens if I go in the middle. I think we’ll figure that out when the time comes.Nicholas Nixon
Woodstock, Vermont 1990
In this photo, we finally move to the 90s, and a milestone is achieved. Two of the Brown Sisters appear to share a deeper bond in this photo, while others appear slightly withdrawn. We can assume she chose to contemplate a distinct lifestyle, or maybe she moved away to another city or state altogether. Talking about this collection, Nixon said that they used to take ten pictures and then chose the best one to include in the series.
We usually take about 10 pictures total, and then we all look at them and choose the best one. In the beginning, I chose the photo that would be included in the series. Then, for a while I chose it, but they got to vote, but I got two votes. Then, it became completely equal,” he revealed… Their choice has to do with how they look and how somebody is leaning on the person next to them. They mix it in with what they think is being objective; meanwhile, I’m absolutely ruthless. I’m going to look at it and say, “What’s an interesting picture of four characters? Which image has the best drama?” It usually has to do something with the truth, but it might not.”Nicholas Nixon
Further explaining how they all decided about the right photo to include, Nixon said that his stance was entirely different from the rest of the clan. The girls chose a photo based on their overall appearance, while Nixon focused on how interesting that particular image was for the viewer.
Watertown, Massachusetts 1991
We are officially into a new decade. The 1990s defined the norms and outlined the prospects for the upcoming century. In this slightly revealing photo, the sisters are holding far from each other. And, we are still wondering why it is so difficult for them to flash a pleasant smile for their family portrait? Have they inevitably discovered that their bond is fading with time as they age and deal with the numerous challenges life has thrown on them? These are questions we cannot answer on our own. All we can say is that, like most of Nick’s work, The Brown Sisters is a monument to inevitability.
The reason he chose to use an 8×10″ view camera on a tripod and the theme has remained black and white throughout shows his intention to depict somberness rather than chirpiness. But, what does it reveal about their sisterhood bond? Not much we say, because in many of the photos we have seen so far, the girls look so comfy and relaxed in each other’s company. In some, though, they do appear distant and withdrawn. But that’s not something unusual. Sisters fight and then make up and come together again as nothing happened. That’s the beauty of the bond of sisterhood.
Harmony, Massachusetts 1992
This is the year 1992, and all the sisters have assumed different poses. It is as if they want to show it doesn’t matter whatever happens in their daily lives. It is essential to collaborate and pose for a family portrait with as much zest and energy as possible. This collection is on display at The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Still, here it offers something more than what is on exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. in Boston, the collection is arranged in chronological order on the room’s four walls. The collection occupies the central space, while above and below are two to three photographs taken by Nixon that same year. This is perhaps to indicate the photographer’s state of mind that year or the overall emotion encompassing that year’s family portrait.
This also serves another purpose. The impact of these expanded pairings is to remind the viewer that the Brown Sisters don’t exist in a vacuum. Though most of the other photos by Nixon are unrelated to this collection, they add a certain degree of life, richness, and human element to the timeline of the collection. For instance, in 1988, Nick captured images that reflected the deepest kind of grief and sorrow, perhaps because he was working with subjects who died of AIDS. So, with this innovation, the Brown Sisters collection reveals a lot about the photographer’s mindset during all those years.
Unknown Place 1993
Nicholas Nixon didn’t mention the place where this photograph was taken. But we can guess that it is somewhere in New England. The series has been going on for so long. It is difficult to imagine how the four subjects and the photographer managed to be on the same page year after year. They must have faced many difficulties. Getting all four sisters to come together for a portrait every year, taking out time from their busy schedules, wouldn’t have been easy. The same goes for Nixon. He also had to take out time to focus on this collection.
Speaking to LensCulture, Nixon stated that it was hard to keep going with the same order that they all determined back in 1975.
The order was determined in the first year of the series, 1975. They got into the order they wanted, and I took the picture. Then a year later, the one on the right, Laurie, was graduating from college. At that point, I had those two pictures, and I decided that was it. We needed to do it for a long time, and they needed to stand in the exact same order… I told them directly: I really think the order matters, but how about if we take half the pictures in any way you want and half the pictures in the order that we’ve taken them so far? We can look at them together, and if one of yours is better, I’ll consider changing.” There was never a better photo. My order was better. Everybody agreed, so that was that.Nicholas Nixon
For Nixon, it was all about the order in which the girls will stand.
Grantham, NH 1994
The thing that makes this portrait exclusive and different from the rest is that the Brown Sisters themselves took it. It is unclear whether Nixon and his wife BeBe were going through a rough patch in their married life or was it just that they decided to do something unusual for that year’s photo. We cannot help notice that they still are very much together, proving to us the lasting value of sisterhood. Gail Sheeny once said that “friends grow up and move away. But the one thing that’s never lost is your sister.” That’s so true, and the Brown Sisters have helped us realize the true worth of sisterhood with this collection.
According to Nicholas Nixon, the sisters wanted to remain anonymous women. He did reveal that they all had married and finished college by the time this photo was taken. But, he chose not to reveal anything about their relationship with their respective spouses, children, and their camaraderie with each other. Nonetheless, this series is a testament to the power of a simple idea. Nixon made an entire series out of that one great idea using the extraordinary photography skills he possessed. He was able to capture the passage of time and document how the human body ages over the years amidst the lurking shadows of mortality. He once revealed that he met BeBe in 1970. At the time, she was 20, and he was 21 years old. They married the following year, and from August 1974, they started taking group portraits of the four sisters.
Marblehead, Massachusetts 1995
The Brown Sisters are leaning into the camera lens properly in this photo taken in 1995. They are holding each other tighter than we have seen in the past couple of years. Maybe they decided to spend some more time on the photo and shared some lighter moments that got reflected in their body language. If you think this is their happiest portrait yet, wait until you check out their portrait from the year 2010, it is even better. Isn’t it incredibly intriguing? Their bond of sisterhood is so unique. In the beginning, they stand apart, then come close, at several points, they share tight embraces, then appear distant, and by the end, they get closer than ever. That’s how sisterhood functions. It entails its fair share of ups and downs, but eventually, it all comes down to the shared feeling of togetherness that none of the sisters can ever escape.
Talking about this aspect of their relationship as depicted in the portraits, Nicholas told LensCulture that as they aged, they had to face several harsh realities of life, such as their mother’s failing health, financial issues, and stuff like that, but they passed that phase gracefully.
Lexington, Massachusetts 1996
It’s related to them getting closer as they grew older, and their mother’s failing health, and the five of us coming to grips with life. It’s made us all closer. Also, as time has gone on, I’ve found being five feet from somebody less interesting than being one foot away because of the intensity of the emotions…Nicholas Nixon
We can clearly see the traces of aging on each of the sister’s faces. They appear to have been facing life’s challenges in full throttle. Three of them make it clear that there’s more than what meets the eye. But, one thing is evident that every passing year, the girls are coming closer to each other. Their faces appear bigger, so we can assume that Nixon has shifted focus on their faces more in the later years. This was a deliberate attempt, revealed Nixon in one of his interviews.
Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts 1997
“With the sisters, I realized that if I could get them close together, then each of their faces would be larger in the picture. I like that. I want to see them as large as possible, and that has lately coincided with their affection and their willingness to be close. I used to have to say, “Oh, can we get a little closer?” You know, if the space between two of them was a little ugly or something. I don’t need to do that anymore,” he said.
“Many years ago, one of the sisters didn’t like the way she looked in one of the pictures. I liked it, but she said, “I look like a Diane Arbus character.” The picture was terrific. We spent a long time talking about it.”
Nixon also explained that the sisters were very skeptical about their looks and appearance in the portraits.
When he was asked about how this issued was sorted out, Nixon revealed that one of the sisters intervened and helped others understand the essence of this series.
“Eventually, one of her sisters said, “You know, these aren’t just about us. These are Nick’s stories about four women, as much as they’re a recording of the four of us. In a way, it’s not you, it’s the woman in the picture.” That made her feel much better,” Nixon explained.
Falmouth, Massachusetts 1998
The dark hues of grey and black signal a thriller almost always. So, we can assume that these sisters were captured on camera in a dark temper, as if Nixon also wanted to create a thriller on the lens. This thriller has been going on since 1975, and we are still trying to figure out who are these four sisters. What a great thriller Nixon managed to create for us.
The collection has received worldwide fame and acclaim. Until 2014, Nixon had collected forty portraits of the sisters, and it has been on display at different museums worldwide. From the Museum of Modern Art, the St. Louis Art Museum, and the Cincinnati Art Museum, to Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the National Gallery of Art, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, the Brown Sisters series has traveled far and wide. In 2010, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston also organized an exhibition dedicated entirely to this series. they gave it the title “Nicholas Nixon: Family Album.” But, this exhibition not just included this series, but portraits of Nixon with his wife BeBe and his children Clementine and Sam. Still, Nixon believes that the Brown Sisters is one of his best works so far because it wasn’t easy to get four people to stand side by side and showcase such a diverse range of emotions. It was like showing your vulnerable side to the world. That was a lot to ask from the girls, and they never hesitated in reflecting their true selves on camera.
It’s absolutely great that four people who like each other can stand side by side and show four such different emotions: sadness, apprehension, joy, protective joy.. those four things can exist within a six-foot square of Earth at the same time, to me, is thrilling and part of the story.Nicholas Nixon
Unknown Place 1999
The Brown Sisters have opted for a different pose, and we can get a better look of their faces. For these warriors sisters, the year 1999 must have been the hardest of all as it turned out to be for the rest of the world. But their resolve is evident as they have devoted themselves to retain their sisterhood with these annual portraits. But, it isn’t just them who were impacted by the bond of sisterhood. Even Nixon also found himself changing for the better while spending time with these girls.
I think that experience influenced “The Brown Sisters.” Bebe thinks I got a little nicer and kinder and more appreciative after that. I hope that’s true. I hope I’ve become a better husband and father and all those other things that I used to think were less important than being a photographer.Nicholas Nixon told LensCulture
That’s the power of sisterhood we have been talking about since the beginning. Many studied have confirmed the benefits of friendship between women. In one study, women who had a solid and supportive circle of female friends were found to have a better chance of surviving breast cancer than socially isolated women.
The study’s lead researcher and author Pamela Goodwin, MD, the University of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital’s medical oncologist, replicated the findings of a 1989 study by Stanford University’s David Spiegel, MD. Here’s what Goodwin has to say about their research findings: “We were able to confirm clear evidence of psychological benefits in terms of mood and pain control, and those benefits were greatest in women who had psychological distress or poorly controlled pain at the time they entered the study.”
Unknown Place 2000
The sisters are clinging carefully to one another, more than ever before. They seem united in every sense of the word. Also, we think that they are now more comfortable posing for the camera, or perhaps their bond is getting stronger every passing year, which is reflected in their demeanor and body language. Throughout all these years, an aspect that has stood out the most is that despite sharing a bond of sisterhood as strong and powerful as it can be, the Brown Sisters have not forgotten to add their personal touch to their respective postures and expressions. It is as if they want their personalities to be reflected along with their relationship. They all have their individual take on this situation and other things in life, which becomes evident from their expressions. Where one appears content, the other seems a bit defiant, one is reclusive and the other too casual, but the overall image that is conveyed is of cooperation and collectiveness.
And why wouldn’t it be? Sisters are always there to pick each other up and happen to be their most potent and weakest link at the same time. It is like a mind-over-matter situation. Besides, sisterhood makes you stronger and better while allowing you to reconsider your take on life. Sisters won’t always agree and will fight, but they will be there for you always. Marilyn Monroe explained it best when she said that:
“The ones that stay with you through everything – they’re your true best friends. Don’t let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best friends in the world.”
Unknown Place 2001
This time also Nixon didn’t reveal the place where this picture was taken. But, from their poses, we can tell that this must be a place where the sisters are the happiest and are allowed to have some leisure time. There’s an undeniable atmosphere of leisure and peacefulness. However, they are still finding it hard to smile. We wonder, was it a deliberate attempt not to smile and stay sober, or was it their own choice? Because people will naturally be compelled to draw conclusions about their relationships from their poses.
Nicholas Nixon revealed that BeBe is a sensitive person. She worked at a cancer treatment and research center as a social worker in Boston. Getting to deal with cancer patients day after day must have taken a toll on her, and this is why she usually appears serious and thoughtful in her poses. We don’t know about the other sisters much. As far as the photographer Nicholas Nixon is concerned, he was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1947. Taking inspiration from the photography of Walker Evans and Edward Weston, Nixon started working with large-format cameras, which many professional photographers had abandoned in favor of 35mm film and portable cameras.
Nixon preferred this format as it let him make prints directly from the negatives and retain the image’s clarity and integrity.
“When photography went to the small camera and quick takes, it showed thinner and thinner slices of time, [unlike] early photography where time seemed non-changing. I like greater chunks, myself. Between 30 seconds and a thousand of a second, the difference is very large,” Nixon said in one of his interviews.
Marblehead, Massachusetts 2002
All the sisters are encompassing one identical sister, like in all those earlier portraits. Does this mean this sister is the most loved and respected one?
Unknown Place 2003
In this photo from 2003, the sisters look worried and immersed in some thought. We can only speculate what could be going through their minds. So far, we have seen their youth unfolding in front of our eyes, and now they are all have grown older and mature. Still, we don’t have a lot of information about these four individuals. Kudos to Nicholas Nixon for giving us such a well-executed thriller and a puzzle we are more than happy to solve, even if it takes a few good years.
Cataumet, Massachusetts 2004
The sisters have embraced the twenty-first-century norms, and one of them is even carrying a cellular phone. They are definitely good at adapting. Two of them are wearing informal clothes, making it clear that they aren’t as much into dressing up for the occasions they used to. This also indicates that this tradition has now become a mandatory part of life for them.
Cataumet, Massachusetts 2005
One of the sisters is proudly standing in the way of the digital camera lens while the other is looking away and devoid us the opportunity to look at the full profile. We are surprised over why two of the sisters are posing so differently than the other two while, for all those years, they tried to keep their poses similar.
Wellesley, Massachusetts 2006
BeBe has let her hair down, and the others are boasting a well-manicured look. But this time again, one of the sisters seems to be off the facet while the remainders exhibit coy smiles.
Unknown Place 2007
The signs of aging are visible on their faces now. It is such an overwhelming emotion that these four girls have literally grown into mature women right in front of us, of course, not literally but in a figurative manner. They must be grandmothers by now.
Dallas, Texas 2008
All the four sisters appear misplaced in this photo taken in Dallas, Texas, in 2008. They are trying to present us yet another exclusive aspect of their persona, which has stayed hidden so far. One sister is hiding while the other is coming ahead and occupying the entire middle portion of the image as if trying to dominate them.
Unknown Place 2009
Nixon’s wife BeBe is the one that has been the driving force behind this challenge. She wanted the viewers to become a part of her world- a world she shares with her three sisters. They want people to have a sneak peek into her life, their beautiful relationship, and the feelings of content and calmness that sisterhood brings forth. Another aspect that we have learned from this series is that BeBe and Nixon’s marital relationship is strong and sturdy as they have been coordinating these portraits for so long.
Unknown Place 2010
We are at the end of yet another decade, but this one is special because we are drawing closer to the end of this great challenge that the Brown sisters took up with Nicholas Nixon back in 1975. The sisters have collaborated so well with each other. One sister is closing her eyes as if she feels that her job is complete. The other sister leans into the digital camera as she is sure they all are a part of a world-famous collection.
Truro, Massachusetts 2011
The sisters have aged visibly, but the camera seems to love them no matter what. Their faces are craggy, yet we find them all far more stunning than ever. Every stage of life has a charm of its own, and we have learned it from the Brown Sisters. The sisterhood bond they share flows out of every single picture, even this one.
While presenting the Brown Sisters Sequence to the world, Nicholas Nixon said that this collection is a result of his growing curiosity for the bond these gorgeous ladies shared. He wanted to understand how far they can keep this bond alive, and he was overjoyed that it never weakened even once. Here’s what he said when he first introduced us to these amazing ladies.
“There are 4 folks I wish to thank: the Brown sisters themselves. These photos grew out of my curiosity about and admiration for this band of gorgeous, sturdy ladies, who first let me into their lives, then allowed me to attempt making one image, then joined me in a convention, an annual ceremony of passage. I really like my sisters-in-law Mimi, Laurie, and Heather, and I thank them wholeheartedly for his or her love and persistence. Bebe, my real love, my greatest pal, in the middle of my life. How fortunate, how grateful I’m.” Nicholas Nixon
This iconic photographic collection spanning the twentieth and twenty-first centuries called The Brown Sisters opened at Sotheby’s New York in April this year. It appeared in full unit, although the collection wasn’t complete as yet. It must be noted that full units of this collection have only once at the Museum of Fashionable Artwork, New York.
Nicholas Nixon captured the first image of this collection in 1975, and the four subjects and the photographer have so far captured the portraits in different parts of America. from Woodstock to Truro and Dallas, they have taken us on a journey that none of us want to come to an end. The set of forty images you have seen are estimated to fetch around $200,000 to $300,000.
Nixon’s upcoming exhibition is at Fraenkel Gallery. We think that it is the right time to pay homage to this huge challenge the photographer could pull off with such great finesse. This is their 41st annual photograph.
Truro, Massachusetts 2017
This is the final photograph of the Brown Sisters sequence. The sisters are 58, 64, 66, and 68.
Brookline, Massachusetts, 2018
This encore image was taken just because.