Nicholas Nixon

(1947) American


A native of Detroit, Nicholas Nixon chose to become a photographer while a student of American literature at the University of Michigan. He served as a VISTA volunteer in St. Louis from 1969-70, and received MFA in photography from the University of New Mexico in 1974. Nixon moved to Boston, where he began using a black-and-white 8x10 view camera to photograph his adopted city. His work was included in the 1975 exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape at the George Eastman House, and his Boston images appeared in his first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art the next year. His work was also presented in Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960, at the Museum of Modern Art in 1978. Since 1975, Nixon has taught at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The first monograph on his work, Nicholas Nixon: Photographs from One Year was released in 1983, and five years later Nicholas Nixon: Pictures of People was published to accompany a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.
Nixon has used his bulky 8x10 view camera since the 1970s to capture spontaneous gestures and emotions more typically associated with photographs taken with a hand-held 35-millimeter camera. His preference for the large-format camera is due in part to the exquisite detail it imparts to resulting prints, and its ability to sharpen the foreground and background of an image simultaneously. Nixon began his career with urban and landscape photography, but has become increasingly associated with portraiture, in which he often tries to communicate the difference between public behavior and private moments. He is perhaps best-known for the ongoing series of portraits of his wife, Bebe, and her three sisters (The Brown Sisters, begun in 1975), yet he has documented also the residents of old age homes, people terminally ill from AIDS-related complications, and people interacting with their neighbors from the at once public and private spaces of their front porches.
Meredith Fisher
Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 223.
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