Creating a record of your family – the photography of Nicholas Nixon


creating a record of your family

The Brown sisters, photographed by Nicholas Nixon

I’m a sentimental person, and always yammering about the importance of creating a record of your family. One of the best and most moving examples of this is the famous series of portraits of the four Brown sisters, shot by photographer Nicholas Nixon. Starting in 1975 Nixon photographed the sisters (one of whom is his wife) every year, and now has forty images of the sisters together. It’s really astonishing and poignant to see the women over time. It must be wonderful to have such a thorough and elegant documentation of your family, and I’m glad they have shared the photographs.

Awhile ago on Facebook I posted a link of a great NYTimes article about the series, but just saw  a great video interview of Nixon here and thought I would share that too. I love what he says about getting his subjects to be vulnerable, and the power it adds to the portraits.

I really admire this work, and was amused when he said the inspiration behind the project was being bored and looking for something to do while staying with his wife and her siblings at his in-laws’ house. Ha! Family vacation-induced boredom was the impetus behind many photos I took of my sister when we were growing up. 

To see more of Nixon’s terrific photos of the Brown sisters, click here (also the source of the collage above).

When I was growing up, my mother attempted to do a project like this by photographing my sister and me at the beginning of each year. As my sister and I go older, the ill-fated “January Pictures” were met with annual resistance from my sister and me, and after a few years (as with piano lessons) we were allowed to stop. I really regret it! I wish we had kept it up. For those wondering, I also regret quitting piano, just like my parents told me I would.


creating a record of your familyHere’s an early image of mine, that was inspired by boredom. The photo above is of my sister, while we were both bored on vacation in Tuscany. The backdrop is a beach towel, hanging on a gate. I took the photo in 1997, and it remains one of my favorites. Incidentally, I would LOVE to be bored in Tuscany right now.

UPDATE: now that I think about it, one of my recent posts was entirely inspired by boredom on a family vacation. Here are some photos of my sister when we were bored in the hamptons last Thanksgiving. Boredom portraits are a family tradition!

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