Paul Greenfield MFA, ARPS

Nicholas Nixon (1947)

The Brown Sisters, New Canaan, Connecticut, 1975​​​​​​​

The Brown Sisters, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, 2015

American photographer. He received his BA in American literature from the University of Michigan in 1968. After marrying in 1971, he moved to New Mexico and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico in 1974. He settled in Boston to teach at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. One of the photographers involved in the revival of large format cameras in the 1970s, Nixon used this format to document the lives of everyday people. 
Nixon is best known for his ongoing series titled The Brown Sisters and for his photographs of individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Deciding to work exclusively with an 8×10 view camera, Nixon photographed views in Boston and New York. In 1975 Nixon was included in New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape, an exhibition that defined a new movement in photography characterized by the revival of the large format camera
From my MFA dissertation
"Nicholas Nixon’s images of his baby boomer wife and her sisters are also very telling, regarding suggestion. Somehow, we can tell that the four elderly women are not being staged and that the warmth between them is real. Is there a connotation that they are sisters? 
Sean O’Hagan in the Guardian  (O'Hagan 2014) sees a reflection of the viewer ‘In these four strangers, we see some semblance of ourselves and our inexorably unfolding lives.’ It is also not beyond our imagination to feel that the third woman from the left might have a different, more intimate, relationship with the photographer than the other women. The interpretation of this image is very personal, yet somehow the gaze seems different, perhaps more sparkle in her eyes?
Nixon’s style of photography is to create an intimacy between the subject and the viewer and in many of his other portraits, of children and AIDS sufferers, the subject is looking into his large-format camera. This technology is difficult to use quickly, and the artist is unable to make as many images compared to using a 35mm camera. Possibly this lack of pace gives him the time to put his subjects at ease and because his work is of a documentary nature, he doesn’t need to worry about staging the scene. And like Tina Barney, he is able to create feelings of warmth and empathy in the mind of the viewer."
Back to Top