The Four Sisters In The Picture

There is an exhibit that travels the country that contains photographs of four women, the Brown sisters, together in the same order for a thirty-six year span. It all started when Nicholas Nixon, a professional photographer, took the first picture in 1975 of his wife Bebe and her three sisters. They decided to make it an annual tradition. Their tradition has not only turned into a traveling art exhibit, the pictures have been made into a book.

The siblings were between the ages of 15-25 when they started, making them between 51-61 years old when they stopped. The pictures capture many things- hairstyles, clothing, weight gain, weight loss, gray hairs, wrinkles and aging. If you look past their poses without smiles ( as almost every single year there are none) I think you can really feel their love for one another, sense seasons of pain and moments of joy.

I have read many comments on the volume of work with many of them being unkind criticisms. ” Gee, that one gained weight” ” Ouch, a few of them sure aren’t aging well” ” I think they could have smiled at least” ” they didn’t believe in make-up” ” boy they got old quick” and the observations go on and on, some of them downright mean and not worth repeating.

I recently had my hair cut and also joined the over 40 crowd that finds themselves wearing progressive lenses. The hairstyle change was prompted by viewing myself in a picture for Lilly’s graduation. I had not darkened the door of a hair salon in eighteen months. I was enjoying growing my hair out and pulling it back in a ponytail, a different fresh look. And then yikes! One look at the graduation photos and all I could think was ” what was I thinking ? Who is that old lady?” The dress, the hair, yuck. I had my hair cut two days later and felt instantly younger, hipper and more alive.

I didn’t look at the pictures of the Brown sisters and see the comments of others I mentioned above. I did at first wonder why they didn’t smile more but then as I viewed their passing years, I found their straight faces intriguing. The lack of an upward turn of their mouth caused me to concentrate on their eyes, their posture, their attitude behind the expressions and their love and commitment to agree to meet annually in this busy world of ours and document a moment together. I found them to be brave to share with the rest of us a glimpse of their family togetherness and the aging process we are all going through, day by day and year by year. I enjoyed wondering why some years one or more of the sisters did look tired and worn, only to look refreshed and brighter a year later. Their photographs stand as a testimony that life is a process and it has an effect on each and every one of us. And mostly that the beauty is in the living, not the polished appearance of the pictures we take.

My girls have decided to start their own annual snapshot that will give a glimpse into their lives and love as sisters, but a photograph will always only tell part of their story.


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  1. Phyllis says:

    Enjoyed the story.

  2. Linda says:

    Love it!!! And shame on the people who made negative comments – who knows what had transpired in their lives during the year between pictures! As you so beautifully put it – life happens. The good the bad and the ugly all in the span of one year!

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