Evocative Portraits

Evocative Portraits

In the summer of 1975, American photographer Nicholas Nixon captured, on a whim, a photograph of his wife, Bebe, and her three 20-something sisters during a family gathering in New Canaan, Connecticut. The image—which features the four young women poised coolly and effortlessly in casual, summer-weight knits and high-waisted trousers—marked the first in what would become a decades-long series of portraits of the four Brown sisters. On a topical level, the portraits document the aging process, how the skin loses elasticity and the gaze begins to harden. A more careful reading of the collection, however, reveals a testament family bonds that may weaken at times, but that never break. The project is Nixon’s best-known work and serves as the anchor of the artist’s current retrospective at C/O Berlin. Organized by Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid in collaboration with the Berlin venue, this presentation is the first time Nixon’s complete output has been on view.

The same care and tenderness with which the photographer captured moments in his own family history—like those mentioned above—was bestowed upon the images he shot of his non-familial subjects, which are also on view in this exhibition. With sensitivity and gravitas, he chronicled the lives of individuals affected by AIDS in the 1980s; shot evocative portraits of the elderly, newborn babies, and hospital patients; and documented quotidian moments of joy, laughter, and life seen on front porches from Boston to Kentucky. It appears as though each subject entrusts the photographer implicitly, resulting in images that are revealing, intimate, and candid.

This is where Nixon’s power lies—in his ability to weave together deeply personal and individualistic moments into a story with global resonance, one that blurs the lines between the strange and the familiar, and the other and the self.

The exhibition is open until 1 December. Find out more here. 

Stephanie Strasnick

1. View of Battery Plaza, NYC, 1975. © Nicholas Nixon. Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.
2. The Brown Sisters, 1975 © Nicholas Nixon. Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, Colecciones Fundación MAPFRE.