In the year 1975, the Brown sisters had their photograph taken…and they have done so every year since. Annually, wherever they may be, the the four sisters get together for their yearly tradition. The series has documented 43 years to date, exceptionally displaying the beauty of aging, and the bond and love of sisterhood. Titled “The Brown Sisters”, the collection has garnered vast interest on a worldwide scale. Not only is it published as a book, it is also featured in many museums and gallery exhibitions across the world.
1975- New Canaan, CT
The first photo of the series was taken during a family holiday in 1975. Interestingly enough, the photographer, Nicholas Nixon took one the year before, but was not happy with the outcome. From left to right, Heather: 23, Mimi: 15, Bebe: 25, Laurie: 21.
1976- Hartford, CT
This photo is epic…all four sisters are wearing a dress! Nixon said this was one of the only times he saw not one of them wearing pants. This photo was taken at Laurie’s college graduation. Bebe and Laurie look less than thrilled that their dresses are almost the exact same…oops!
1977- Cambridge, MA
Their poses may vary, but their order stays the same in each photograph. The series has much more of an impact with the women staying in the same position each year.
1978- Harwich Port, MA
It was extremely evident in the first photo that Mimi (second from the left) and Bebe (second from the right) had a 10 year age gap. But now, as the women age, the age disparity is becoming less and less evident.
1979- Marblehead, MA
Fun Fact: the photographer, Nicholas Nixon, is the husband of Bebe (second from the right)!
1980- East Greenwich, R.I.
Nick was visiting his wife’s family one summer day, just a few weeks after purchasing a new camera. On a whim, he asked Bebe and her three sisters if they would mind if he photographed them.
1981- Cincinnati, OH
A year later, at Laurie’s graduation, Nixon had them line up in the same order for a shot. He saw the potential for a series, and asked if they would continue the tradition each year. The rest is history…he began a project that has spanned his entire career!
1982- Ipswich, MA
Nixon (being an only child) claims he not only gained a wife when marrying Bebe, but he also gained three sisters. He was quoted saying, “I have always been particularly intrigued by the sisterly unit”. His admiration for the sisterly bond is evident in his photographs.
1983- Allston, MA
The series is exceptionally unique due to the fact that the women don’t prepare for the photographs at all, they wear whatever they happened to put on that morning. They don’t coordinate or try to look a certain way, it is all very organic. Bebe Nixon says, “We just wear what we feel like wearing that day.”
1984- Truro, MA
1984 differs from the previous years because the backdrop is the sea, opposed to the wooded landscapes we usually see.
1985- Allston, MA
The sisters made it clear from the beginning that they wanted their identities to be kept secret. We know little of who they are, including their professions, and who they are as individuals. We know their names and their ages, and that’s about it. “Their faces and stances say, Yes, we will give you our image, but nothing else”.
1986- Cambridge, MA
This is the first close-up photo thus far in the series. Three of the sisters are in their thirties, while the youngest is 26. The women’s resemblance to one another is more evident in this close-up photograph when compared to shots taken from farther away.
1987- Chatham, MA
It is very refreshing to see photographs absent of fake smiles and stiff poses. This series is so natural, capturing each sister’s feelings and mood in the moment. The outcome is much more powerful than pre-planned would have been.
1988- Wellesley, MA
Nixon says, “…even though people understand the concept of time, we do not notice it passing. The release of a new image of the sisters each year, for some, signals another year has gone by, and the more years that do, the more it shows how time does pass”.
1989- Cambridge, MA
Each year Nixon would say to the women, “just give me what you’ve got”. No expectations, no direction, just that one line.
1990- Woodstock, VT
Nixon prides himself on not directing any movement. The affection they show to one another, or don’t show to one another, is completely arbitrary. The women’s movements are spontaneous, whatever they do, he captures.
1991- Watertown, MA
Nixon said that when deciding which photograph to choose, he personally looks for one that says something interesting about each of the sisters, as well as the overall drama of the picture.
1992- Concord, MA
1992’s photograph is especially unique because the sisters are not all looking into the camera lens. What does this tell us about their mood that day?
1993- Boston, MA
The picture published each year is mutually decided between the four sisters. Every photograph is taken using the exact same 8 x 10 camera. All of the photos are black-and-white, no color.
1994- Grantham, NH
When a gallery in Granda, Spain exhibited 36 prints from the series, viewers openly wept seeing the transformation of the women before their eyes.
1995- Marblehead, MA
Three of the sisters are now in their forties, while the youngest is 35. This photo marks 20 years from the first image of the series.
1996- Lexington, MA
Nixon was quoted saying, “I worried that the sisters may get more self-conscious about the series over time but, they haven’t”. The way their aging, and beauty is effortlessly captured takes out the self-consciousness factor.
1997- Wellesley Hills, MA
If the sisters were ever unanimous when choosing a photo, and Nixon disagreed, he always went with their choice. “I have to be fair here,” he said.
1998- Falmouth, MA
Over the years, we see the women begin to trust Nixon more and more. He even acknowledges this claim stating, “We’ve gotten close”.
1999- Brookline, MA
In 1999, the first edition of ‘The Brown Sisters’ was released. In 2008, a second edition was released, and an updated third was published in 2014.
2000- Eastham, MA
Aging, next to sickness, is one of life’s most humbling experiences. As we age, we are more and more grateful for life itself, and the beauty of living.
2001- Brewster, MA
As we look at the images, we may see more sorrow in the eyes, or more sun spots, but this is all that comes with growing older. Amazingly enough, the Brown sisters do not let aging define them, not one bit. Rather, they embrace it with open arms.
2002- Marblehead, MA
As we scroll through the photographs from each year, we are aware of what growing old looks like. But, we can also attribute aging to the marathon of life, and the endurance accompanied with it.
2003- Ipswich, MA
The lines on their foreheads and freckles on their cheeks show us a wonderful life in the sun, summers on the beach full of laughs and fun.
2004- Cataumet, MA
This is the first, and only, photo that we see a technological device make an appearance. We can figure out the year the photo was taken based on the model of the cellphone. The presence of the phone shows us that there are lives being lived, whether we are let into them or not.
2005- Cataumet, MA
The women’s faces in each photograph share a story, the ups, the downs…the beautiful journey that is life.
2006- Wellesley, MA
This is the first photo in awhile where the women are seen sitting. Was there a reason for this? Maybe, old age was kicking in, the years of being active and youth, fading.
2007- Cataumet, MA
Hairstyle changes, and new fashion trends show us the passing of years, the new eras and decades the women are experiencing.
2008- Dallas, TX
While all of the other photos in the series were taken on the East Coast, the 2008 photo was different, being photographed in Texas.
2009- Truro, MA
This series allows us to see the beauty of aging in a very raw and natural form. Omitting the sexualization of women with forced poses and fake smiles makes the photographs that much more successful.
2010- Truro, MA
Many people have asked Nixon what he would do if one of the sisters happened to be unavailable that year, or if for heavens sake, one of them passed away. He replied, “It is my intention to hopefully find a way to carry on”.
2011- Truro, MA
When the sisters first began the series, they mainly stood alone or in pairs for the photos. As they age, whether unconsciously or not, we see them come together as one unit, holding one another, and looking more connected than ever.
2012- Boston, MA
A palm steadies another’s neck, arms embrace arms, a hand clasps another sister’s waist…independence is no longer a concern, we see the women’s bodies meld together as one.
2013- Truro, MA
The photos aren’t given titles, Nixon preferred to name them with just the year and the location.
2014- Wellfleet, MA
The ‘Brown Sisters’ features the women as subjects, as the alive people that they are. The passage of time, the familial bond, and the beauty of aging are all beautifully captured in this emotional journey of life. Heather, Mimi, Bebe and Laurie share their lives with us, and show us the beauty and vulnerability associated with aging and growing old.