Nicholas Nixon

Nicholas Nixon, born in 1947, is known for the ease and intimacy of his black and white large format photography.  As well as being one of the photographers exhibiting in New Topographics, Nicholas Nixon’s subjects include schoolchildren and schools in and around Boston, people living along the Charles River near Boston and Cambridge as well as cities in the South, his family and himself, people in nursing homes, the blind, sick and dying people, and the intimacy of couples. Nixon is also well known for his work People With AIDS, begun in 1987.

Recording his subjects close and with meticulous detail facilitates the connection between the viewer and the subject. Influenced by the photographs of Edward Weston and Walker Evans, Nixon began working with large-format cameras. Whereas most professional photographers had abandoned these cameras in favor of shooting on 35mm film with more portable cameras, Nixon preferred the format because it allowed prints to be made directly from the 8×10 inch negatives, retaining the clarity and integrity of the image. Nixon has said “When photography went to the small camera and quick takes, it showed thinner and thinner slices of time, [unlike] early photography where time seemed non-changing. I like greater chunks, myself. Between 30 seconds and a thousandth of a second the difference is very large.”

Interview with Nixon from Ahorn Magazine

Urbonautica article

Nixon’s work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, among many others.

New Topographics and urban landscape

Nixon’s early city views taken of Boston and New York in the mid-seventies were exhibited at the New Topographics exhibition in 1975. See Google Images from the Exhibition

His images are mostly high view images showing complexity of roadways and textured skyscrapers. Although they have a formal beauty, I do not find them as effective in terms of message or emotion as other images in the exhibition.

His first solo exhibition was at the Museum of Modern Art curated by John Szarkowski.

In the late nineties, Nixon returned to this subject matter to document Boston’s changing urban landscape during the Big Dig highway development project.

The Brown Sisters

In 1975, Nixon began his project, The Brown Sisters consisting of a single portrait of his wife, Bebe, and her three sisters each year, consistently posed in the same left to right order. As of 2014, there are forty portraits altogether.

Forty Portraits in Forty Years—Nicholas Nixon portrait series (The Brown Sisters)

In 2010, theMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston organized the exhibition “Nicholas Nixon: Family Album” which included “The Brown Sisters” series among other portraits of his wife Bebe, himself and his children Sam and Clementine.

 Close Far

2013 Nixon’s book Close Far was released by Steidl. The body of work explores the relationship of the self in physical and psychological proximity to the urban landscape. Nixon presents a dichotomous group of photos made with a large-format view camera, in this case one with an 11×14 inch negative. The first half of the book contains self-portraits, comprising, in Nixons words, sketches of an old man. Filled with anxiety, longing and contentedness, these images chronicle the shapes, slopes and pores of Nixons face. The second half of the book shows views of buildings in the densest part of Boston. Made from high within the buildings and with the same camera, these images without horizons do not gaze down upon but rather through the city. With the lens in the same orientation as his self-portrait photos, Nixons results are remarkable for their richness of detail and complexity of form.

Interview with Nixon from 2013


  • Photographs From One Year (1983)
  • Pictures of People (1988)
  • People With AIDS (with Bebe Nixon)(1991)
  • School (1998)
  • The Brown Sisters (2002)
  • Nicholas Nixon Photographs (2003)
  • Home (2005)
  • Live Love Look Last (2009)
  • Close Far (2013)
  • Forty Portraits in Forty Years (2014)