These Sisters Took Same Picture Together Every Year For 40 Years


When BeBe’s husband, Nicholas Nixon, was bored at his wife’s family dinner, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He asked his spouse and her three sisters to pose in the garden for him to snap some pictures. But that was just the beginning.

sisters- 1975


The sisters happily obliged to pose for Nixon, appeasing his boredom. They stood side by side and gave a natural pose while Nicholas prepared the settings on his camera. The picture turned out great, looking professional and chic in traditional black and white. The brown sisters and Nixon were all pleased with the result and had the idea to take the same picture, once a year every year. Everything would stay the same from the order to the filter. Picture number one was dated 1975.



One integral aspect of the photo that changed was the time. In the earlier years, not much had changed physically about the sisters, the photos of the later years were perhaps the ones that were the most revealing. However, the changing of time comes the changing of trends, seen through the sisters’ fashion sense which they evidently kept up to date with. From the mid 70’s until 2014, style had changed dramatically and the sisters were able to portray this through their annual, single photo.

sisters- 1977


Although it was not intended to, Nicholas’s creative and inspired idea created a buzz around the world and also turned the heads of some prominent artistic institutions. Nixon landed a leading position in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in an exhibition named “Nicholas Nixon: Forty Years of the Brown Sisters.” However, the first photo taken in 1974 was the one that the photographer was dissatisfied with and opted not to include. It wasn’t until 2014 that he made some revelations about his up and coming piece.

sisters- 1978


Nixon explained in his interview with The Guardian  “The series grew out of boredom.” He continued in adding “We’d go down to visit [my wife] BeBe’s parents on weekends. It was kind of boring, a lot of socializing, we were expected to show up for dinner every day… Out of a friendly desperation, I said: ‘Let’s take a picture.'” While there was no intention for the photos from the outset, Heather was 23, Mimi, 15, BeBe, 25, and Laurie, 21, they realized that it perfectly depicted the inevitable aging process.



The exhibit at the MOMA details many aspects of the photo’s but perhaps amongst the most important is how they decided to make it annual. A caption read, “It was after this second successful picture that the group agreed to gather annually for a portrait and settled on the series’ two constants: the sisters would always appear in the same order—from left to right, Heather, Mimi, BeBe, and Laurie — and they would jointly agree on a single image to represent a given year.”

sisters- 1980


The picture which started it all portrayed the sisters as free spirits, enjoying nature in the outdoors but no one expected it to transform into an exhibition shown at one of the most famous art galleries in the world. The project soon became Nixon’s most popular and memorable and gave him a niche in his photography. He said that the sisters “seemed okay with it” when he came up with the idea, oblivious to what was about to happen. However, in his admissions, he kept one thing quiet.



When the collection of photos began to come together, Nixon made sure to hide the true identities of his subjects. Nixon wanted to keep the project entirely professional and allow people to separate it from his personal life. The intention to keep the sisters simply a face stemmed from the concept to allow the viewer to focus solely on the artistic value in the photos, rather than who they were and why these four women kept being photographed. Admirers were mesmerized by their intense looks.



It was widely known that Nicholas Nixon had two children with his wife BeBe, one of the women in the photos, but the rest of the sisters’ private lives were completely unknown. As humans, there is a constant desire to gain insights into the background and personal lives of individuals, and in particular with these photos, people wanted to know who they were. Looking at the photos, viewers felt a sense of empathy, as if they have grown up with these women, yet know nothing besides their faces.



Many can postulate why they are in the photos, what they do with their lives and what they are thinking in every photo, but to guess is all one can do. The sisters gave no information away, and their lives were nothing but a mystery. Perhaps that is one of the reasons the exhibition was so popular. Admirers are forced to make assumptions about the women. Nixon went so far to explain that the false feeling of familiarity is one of the most poignant parts of the photos.

sisters- 1984


Nixon observantly stated that “We are all aware of time passing and us not being aware of it while it’s passing.” He continued “Seeing the sisters, for a lot of people, gives them a reliable marker that a year has passed.” In some years, their relationship and bond appeared closer than others with 1985 incorporating more physical touch than previous years. Followers of the photos interpreted this as their relationships becoming stronger as they grew older.

sisters- 1985


With every year, a slight change to each picture made fans that much more eager to view it. The photo in 1986 was alternate as this was one of the first times the Brown sisters displayed more than a straight, serious facial expression. The creeping smile on each of their faces can be interpreted to believe they were in joyous moods or that the photographer, Nixon, had perhaps done something to provoke a smile. It was a welcome change to their distinctive somber expressions.

sisters- 1986


In Nixon’s interview, he gave further information into the visionary idea to capture these moments. He said, “It didn’t really get serious until the next year [1975], the year of Laurie—the woman on the right’s—college graduation.” It was at this exact moment that Nixon recalled his last picture of the four sisters, saying “And that’s when I took the second one, and kind of on a whim, said let’s do it in the same order.” It continued after that.

sisters- 1987


Nixon was incredibly eager to get the project rolling once his idea had truly come to fruition. The Brown sisters were on board, but none of them could have imagined that one photo would have transformed into such a spectacle. Nixon said, “So it was having two pictures in my hand, and the year space between them that gave me the idea that it would be really interesting to do it forever. And so I asked them if we could. And they all laughed at me and said sure.”

isters- 1988


One of the most interesting aspects of the photos was watching the Brown sisters Heather, Mimi, BeBe and Laurie grow up in the photos. Not only was their age seen through their faces, but it was also shown through their changing fashion. The sisters would regularly meet up with one another, so they didn’t notice changes in real time, they only observed them through the photos each year. However, no one expected the artistry to last so many years.



Many even went so far to comment on how the project had lasted, with Nixon being in on the joke. He said “We joke about it. But everybody knows that certainly, my intention would be that we would go on forever no matter what.” Nicholas did consider whether to make a few alterations, “To just take three, and then two, and then one. The joke question is what happens if I go in the middle. I think we’ll figure that out when the time comes.”



In 1991, 16 years after their first photo was taken, the sisters were beginning to show signs of aging. While their personal lives remained a mystery, for the most part, only BeBe was known to have children and this clearly took its toll on her physical appearance. Nevertheless, many agreed that the sisters had aged exceptionally well. Maybe it was down to the black and white nature of the photos, or it was just their genes, but there was something sad about this photo…



Going through the years, people have their ups and downs, and the sisters were no different. In 1991 they presented sad expressions while 1992 brought them back up again and they looked happy and at ease. The bonds between the sisters were also more obvious as Heather and Mimi held hands while Laurie remained more reserved and kept one hand in her pocket and the other clenched away from BeBe. Perhaps Laurie was becoming jealous of her other sisters’ close relationship.

sisters- 1992


The time of the year the photo was taken was supposedly summer, but their fashion in 1993 showed that their location was not a warm one. Perhaps they had decided to travel together and take their annual photo in a different climate, or it could have just been a colder summer. Either way, the black and white filter on the photo did not give too much away, other than the sky looking darker than usual. The sisters looked to be in high spirits.



What was so refreshing about the images of the sisters was that the photos never looked contrived or overdone. They all appeared natural and styled in the clothes that they would wear day to day. Moreover, the lack of makeup was evident, and it made for a more interesting picture seeing the crows feet lines and bags under their eyes like normal women. BeBe Nixon said of the relaxed nature of the photo, “we just wear what we feel like wearing that day.”



Friends come and go, but family is forever. The loving relationship between the sisters was clear in this photo. Joining hands, smiling and gazing into the eyes of the viewer while keeping near to one another. Their loosened and wrinkled skin showed that they had been through a lot in their lives but through their sisterhood, they would always remain strong and together. The series of photos was just another piece which brought them together.

sisters- 1995


Nixon’s entire project was carried out using his sisters-in-law, but when asked if he would consider the experiment with his own family, he was unsure of how to respond. Nixon never had a chance to include his family as his parents never had any more children. Nixon missed out on the family dynamic of having siblings which perhaps made him more eager to have his wife and her sisters take part in the photography project. Nixon considered the Brown sisters his own siblings.

sisters- 1996


Nixon’s fondness for his family was noticed, and he said “Being an only child, it was really gratifying and lovely to be embraced by this family. There’s still a groundwater of affection and support.” It is also no surprise that the photos created a tighter bond between Nixon and the sisters and he noted, “I look back at these thirty-some pictures, and it’s like they’re of my sisters. I can feel myself getting old with them. And I’m part of them; they’re part of my love.”



While Nicholas was known for his work with the Brown sisters, he was also widely recognized through his affiliation with black and white photos. Nixon’s decision to portray landscapes and people in monochrome colors allows him to depict their facial expressions and details more vividly. His unexpected project with the Brown sisters has gone on for 40 years, making it one of the longest artistic projects to date. It may be hard to believe, but this was not Nixon’s greatest accomplishment.



It wasn’t until 2006 that Nixon was contacted by the Museum of Modern Art and asked to exhibit his project in their highly acclaimed gallery. Moreover, the exhibition was then extended to feature in Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas and in 2010, an exhibition entitled ‘Family Album.’ Nixon’s dedication to his artwork did not go unnoticed, and he was highly praised by respected establishments. He was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships and three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships.



Throughout the years, the Brown sisters were obligated to agree on guidelines when it came to taking their annual photo. While the photo was relatively simple and organic, the sisters made sure to appear in the same order. This way, viewers would not get confused which sister they were looking at. Moreover, on Nixon’s part, The Museum Of Modern Art noted: “also significant, and unchanging, is the fact that each portrait is made with an 8 × 10″ view camera on a tripod and is captured on a black-and-white film negative.”



When the portraits of the Brown sisters were put on display at the MOMA, the 40 images were altered accordingly to fit the space. The museum printed each photo at a larger size of 20 by 24 inches. Nixon was asked about his feelings about his leaving a legacy through his artwork, to which he modestly replied: “The world is infinitely more interesting than any of my opinions about it.” Nicholas Nixon is one of the underrated talents, and his attitude should be respected and recognized.



The project with the Brown sisters may have started out with the sisters being nothing more than a canvas, but their portraits have been much more revealing than originally imagined. Through the lens, the viewers were able to witness the changing relationships and closer bonds between the sisters. In addition, the only giveaways the sisters gave away about their personalities was through their appearance and clothing. Still, the viewers were not given many insights into their lives.



As the years went on, the sisters seemed more at ease and comforting of one another. For example, Heather is seen in this picture, gently placing her hand on Mimi’s head, as if to assure her that she would always have her sister looking over her. In contrast, the rest of the sisters look rather uneasy in this photo, as if something is affecting them. Perhaps the sisters dark clothing was intended to reflect their moods on this day.

sisters- 2003


This photo, in 2004 is different to every other photo taken by the sisters. While the date of the photos could only really be seen through their style, this one gave a lot away. One can notice the cell phone sitting on the waistband of Heather’s skirt. The Brown sisters were moving with the times, and this included the technological advancements that came within the 21st century. Up until this point, the sisters had never presented an interest in technology or new gadgets.



While three of the sisters are looking directly at the camera in this photo, Laurie decided to break away from the rest of them and do something different. Her expression shows a sense of angst and one can only postulate whether something had bothered Laurie on the day the photo was taken. Heather, Mimi, and BeBe look comfortable with BeBe going so far to put her hand around Laurie, despite her uncomfortable nature. All siblings argue, and it could have been one of those days for Laurie.

sisters- 2005


The sisters’ style had clearly evolved in this photo. They decided to put away the gender-neutral style they previously presented in favor of outfits which show their femininity, soft nature and maturity. Moreover, Mimi looks to be showing more skin than usual with her confidence growing, allowing her to feel comfortable in her own skin. Interestingly, Laurie had once again been shown with the same uneasy facial expression, giving many viewers the impression that she was having a mentally challenging couple of years.



After the previous year of expressing their femininity, the sisters went back to their original, laid back and natural style. The sisters actively avoided changing their appearance too much when shooting the series of photos to allow the viewers to really interpret and understand the difference in their faces throughout the decades. The concept surrounded the bonds between the sisters and to simply show how they aged together. Other factors of the photo were considered unimportant and not necessary.



Mimi does not appear to be her usual self in this photo. She can be seen trying to hide behind BeBe, attempting to be in the shadows, rather than the forefront of the photograph. Mimi’s appearance had probably changed more than her sisters. She had cut her hair short four years prior, giving her a more mature and serious look. In contrast, her sisters seem to be calm and collected and growing into their later years becoming very fond and caring of one another.

sisters- 2008


Within a year, the sisters had made some obvious changes. Some of them look to have lost a lot of weight, making them appear older than they actually are. Age and looks can take its toll on people’s lives and the Brown sisters are clearly no exception. Nevertheless, the sisters’ wrinkles, loose skin, and skin discoloration all makes for an authentic picture. The one thing that wouldn’t slowly decline with time was their sisterhood and family bond through the photos.

sisters- 2009


While Heather, Mimi, and BeBe had the same facial expression for the majority of the photo series, Laurie was consistently the one to stand out. Year after year, Laurie would give an expression, of angst, sadness or stress and it looked to become a recurring theme. This year, by closing her eyes, Laurie almost looked as if she was in a better state. Perhaps she had found peace within herself and was finally in a good place of calmness and relief.

sisters- 2010


While the sisters appeared close in every photo, there were some instances where some seemed to have deeper relationships and bonds than others. This photograph shows that Heather and Mimi’s attention is elsewhere and they are gazing into the distance. On the other hand, BeBe and Laurie appear to be closer than ever, bringing their heads together and placing their arms around one another in an act of fondness. The four sisters all appeared to have different thoughts.



2012 was a first for the sisters as they all appeared closer than ever. With their arms intertwined the sisters were embracing one another. They look as if they recognize how lucky they are to have each other and appreciate this bond that won’t ever be broken. Friends come and go but family is forever, and the sisters look to be cherishing the time that they have together. In addition, Laurie looks to be content and involved with her sisters’ love.



Something else that can be noted throughout the 40 years was the quality of the pictures. Nixon may have been determined to use the same size and filter on each of the photos, but there were no guidelines stipulating which camera should be used. From the clear quality of the photos, Nixon’s wife BeBe aged the most with her wrinkles and loose skin giving it away. The women all had very different experiences in life; it is no surprise that it is exemplified through their appearance.



It had been a long 40 years and both the Brown sisters and Nicholas Nixon knew there had to be an end to the project. They believed they should end the series on a high note and although it was expected that their fans would be somber sad about the news, they still appreciated it. Four decades worth of photos looked to be the perfect end to an exceptional display, and the sisters could look back in awe and wonder and admire how they were the stars of such a wonderful exhibition.