In my ongoing quest for scholarship, I often skim over people who I feel confident I know enough about. For example, Atget = Paris (but the ghosts!). Because there is so much to know, and I feel like I should focus on people I know nothing about, instead of diving deeper into semi-known territory.
So Nicholas Nixon photographed the Brown sisters - his wife and her three sisters, every year, in the same order, all looking at the camera, starting in 1975 and still going strong. I always kind of put that in the category of “wish I had thought of that”. Damn, it’s good. Simple, elegant, showing the passage of time.
I always forget that he was part of the seminal 1975 New Topographics exhibition at the George Eastman House. Shame on me. But still. Peter Galassi (he’s not John Szarkowski…) says the photographers in that exhibit went one of two ways in their (respectful) treatment of subject - they either admired the inherent beauty, at the risk of prettiness, or they represented straight facts, at the risk of banality. Galassi says Nixon’s work after this seems like an attempt to reconcile these two attitudes.
The main thing I took away from this week’s reading on Nixon was his mastery of the 8x10 camera - an unwieldy thing that takes patience I don’t have. As he moved from his topographic work toward portraits, he did not abandon the 8x10, even though this contemporaries were all jet-setting with the Leica. He began making work along the Charles River, and his landscapes gradually began to be about groups of people and their social interactions. He moved closer in, but still with the 8x10 beast. He switched out lenses, began photographing groups of people on their porches.
Galassi says his style seemed to “annex advanced hand-camera style to the old-fashioned, intractable view camera, and thus to merge the spontaneity and suppleness of the former with the deliberateness and descriptive abundance of the latter”.
Ok, ok. I’m impressed. Damn.