Laurie and Debbie say
We were both taken with this series of photographs by Nicholas Nixon. In 1975, he was visiting his wife’s family, and he asked her and her three sisters if they would pose for a photograph. The next year at a wedding, he asked them to pose again in the same order. And then they made it a yearly tradition.
Now, they have forty annual photographs of four women: Heather, Mimi, Bebe, and Laurie, the Brown sisters. Bebe is Nixon’s wife.
Susan Minot’s article provides the basic facts about the photographs. We recommend that you ignore her gender-essentialist, ageist simplifications and just look at the pictures.
Nixon chose to make these photographs about the women, and not about the photographer. The women almost certainly had a lot to do with that decision; these do not look like women you could easily manipulate. Everyone’s life gets written into our bodies and our faces as we age, and this is a rare opportunity to watch that being written, year on year. It’s no surprise that they each look more complex and interesting as they age, and the photos get even more satisfying.
The Brown sisters appear in these photographs as women with full, complex lives who take themselves seriously, women who are connected with their sisters, women who are comfortable enough with themselves to interact directly with the camera.
Give yourself a present; take the time to look at them all.
Thanks to Lynn Kendall for the link.
This video from cut.com has had 16 million views, so chances are you’ve seen it:
To get the obvious out of the way, what the video calls “beauty” is a specifically Western high-fashion concept of beauty, probably researched in fashion magazines. The model (Nina Carduner) is white and thin and reasonably young. Her scrawny collarbones remain the same as everything above the neck changes.
Here’s why it’s worth writing about:
First, the premise: instead of just showing Carduner in the various decade “looks,” the video also shows how much work it takes to create the looks. Beauty is depicted as the result of effort, not on the part of the model (who would be working a lot more if she was really maintaining any one of those looks on a daily basis), but on the part of fast-moving, skilled stylists (Shyn Midili doing makeup and Juel Bergholm doing hair). They even put in the detail of Carduner disliking the 1980s hairspray. You can’t watch the video and come away thinking that beauty is “just something that happens.”
Second, the performance: I love the way Carduner inhabits the facial expressions and body language of the various decades, though a couple seem a little odd to me (what is she doing in the 1970s shot?). “Beauty” is not just looks but a style of actions; a quirk of the lip, a tilt of the head, a widening of the eyes. If you try to imagine Carduner’s 1920s face and 1980s gestures
Beauty is work, and the work of more than one person. And it is performative. And cut.com could easily have gone along with the simplistic mainstream concept of beauty, and made a video that left out both of those points.
Because they didn’t take the easy route, it’s worth watching.