SAM: Nicholas Nixon's The Brown Sisters

I first saw The Brown Sisters at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in the winter of 2006, and the expressionless annual portraits have stuck in my subconscious with the familiar comfort of a family photo—a memento, a remembrance of times passed. So it was a welcome sight to see three pieces from this series hanging in the new SAM's "Social Studies" section, a hallway-shaped gallery with a range of photography that can't help but awaken your inner voyeur. In 1975, Boston-based photographer Nicholas Nixon began taking an annual image of his wife and her three sisters. They're always positioned in the same order, staring blankly into the camera, with the focus on the people, not the places where the pictures are taken. The pieces at SAM reflect the beginning of the series, showing the sisters as adolescents, teenagers, and young women. Though The Brown Sisters is best when viewed in all 31 portraits, the SAM display still conveys what's compelling about Nixon's work: the subtle passage of time related in a medium of which we've all been subjects. These photos are haunting in their simplicity, and they say something that words can't about family. AIMEE CURL

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