Wednesday 27 December 2017

Nicholas Nixon Retrospective

Forty Portraits in Forty Years by Nicholas Nixon is one of the most impressive, and touching, documentary projects I've ever come across for it makes me see, and feel, a reality that I'm rarely aware of. The passing of time, that is. This series had such a strong impact on me that I've never really wondered who the photographer was – it was the concept that I thought brilliant. And, it was the photographed sisters that captured my attention.

When glancing through this „comprehensive retrospective“ (as the promotion leaflet calls the book) I however immediately sensed an intimacy that many of these pictures radiated – the same (or a similar) intimacy that can be felt when spending time with the Brown Sisters. And so I began to wonder who this photographer is. My main source was Carlos Gollonet's introduction „Nicholas Nixon: The Pulse of Time“ as well as his interview „A Conversation with Nicholas Nixon“. And, also to be found in this tome, Sebastian Smee's „The Clearest Image“.

Nicholas Nixon (born 1947 in Detroit) studied American and English literature (his senior thesis was on James Joyce and Ulysses) when he began photographing. Through Henri Cartier-Bresson he discovered that form is how the larger meaning is born. „I looked at every one of his pictures and saw the athletic force of his framing, and understood that that was what made them better than everyone else's.“

He was however influenced more by the books that he was reading – William Faulkner, Charles Dickens, Marcel Proust, Willa Cather, Flannery O'Connor, Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats – than by photography. „But I've always loved Atget and Cartier-Bresson the most; Walker Evans came later ... he is dry, unlike all the others above ... he used irony, which I had come to distrust.“

It is an interesting phenomenon: Since I feel deeply touched by Nixon's photographs I now look at the work of Atget, Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans with again different eyes.

For the full review, see

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