Sunday, September 5, 2010

Nicholas Nixon: Family Album at the Boston MFA

Nicholas Nixon came onto the photographic radar in 1975 with his inclusion in the seminal exhibit New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. Since then his work has appeared everywhere from the MOMA in NYC to the Corcoran in Washington DC to the MFA in Boston. His work has gone through many chages since 1975 and he is more well known for his images of people than for his work in landscape. His subjects have included intimate pictures of his family, old people in nursing homes, street portraits, a project called People with Aids - all photographed with an 8x10 view camera. But probably his best known body of work is the series made of his wife Bebe and her 3 sisters (The Brown Sisters). Begun in 1975 and photographed annually the series has become one of the most powerful collective portraits of siblings ever imagined. In this exhibit at the MFA they are grouped together chronoligically in a grid. We follow them year by year and see them age, and along the way we are engaged in an intimate narrative with the four women. We don't really know much about them personally so what emerges is a universal portrait as we try to imagine who they really are and what are they like.

Along with the Brown Sisters project are pictures of Bebe along with their children engaged in normal everyday activities that draw you into their lives and make you think about what you have in common with them.

All of the work is deceptively simple in execution. At times they have the feeling of snapshots. The prints are beautifully crafted from 8x10 negatives and at times I wondered how he ever made a particular shot with such a large bulky camera.

Boston Globe review.

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