Most families feel the need to have their photograph taken at least every few years or so—especially during the holidays or during milestone events, such as graduations or weddings. Some families will stage elaborate scenes or contact local professionals for studio or natural light portrait sessions, but most will simply use their own point-and-shoot cameras or smartphones and commandeer friends or relatives to snap a few pictures.
In 1975, photographer Nicholas Nixon had the idea to photograph his wife, Bebe, and her three sisters together every year in the same order. Forty years later, they’re still taking photos and looking at all of the images in succession is mesmerizing to say the least. See for yourself:
Both because of the women’s walled expressions and Nixon’s tight-lippedness, we don’t really know anything about the Brown sisters except their names: Heather is always pictured on our left, then Mimi and Bebe in the middle, respectively, and Laurie to our right. So what’s the point of the photo series? For Nixon, it’s about the essence of beauty and the profound bonds of sisterhood.
Witnessing the women age makes one thing startlingly clear: we put too much stock in wrinkle-less skin. As we stare into the women’s piercing eyes, we realize that beauty is something else entirely—something that doesn’t have to fade with age, but can actually grow stronger, brighter.
Susan Minot of the New York Times, who published Nixon’s 2014 image, says it best:
“While a part of the spirit sinks at the slow appearance of these women’s jowls, another part is lifted: They are not undone by it. We detect more sorrow, perhaps, in the eyes, more weight in the once-fresh brows. But the more we study the images, the more we see that aging does not define these women. Even as the images tell us, in no uncertain terms, that this is what it looks like to grow old, this is the irrefutable truth, we also learn: This is what endurance looks like.”
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