Time and age – Nicholas Nixon’s photographs

I came across Nixon recently, through someone sharing his series The Brown Sisters on my uni forums.  The series (found here) was fascinating.  I couldn’t stop looking and often wanted to scroll back and forth between a few years, tracking the changes in the women’s faces and bodies.

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It’s heavy viewing.  In spite of their obvious solidarity and friendship, a sense of death hangs over the photos, a hard and sad thing to be so forcibly reminded of.  Watching a span of 38 years act on four different people in five minutes is strange and unsettling.  A wonderful series.

Many of Nixon’s works address themes of time, death, decay, aging, and change.  He has a particular focus on old people and sickness.

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K. W., Boston, 1985

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A. B., Boston, 1985 (a startling photograph, the position of the arm makes it seem even smaller than in reality)

These photos capture the sadness of time, the wearing thin.

Nixon also explores the joy in longevity through a series of photographs with his wife, called Bebe and I, taken in 2013.  It captures the colour and deep knowing that comes out of a relationship of many years.  This shows another side of time and age.  I love the intimacy of these photographs.  The signs of aging on Bebe’s face seem dear, important, and known.  To Nixon they are seals of time shared and experienced together.

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Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta was a Cuban American artist who created performance art, sculpture, paintings, and videos.

My favourite of her works is her Silueta Series (1973-80), which she called “earth-body” sculptures, made from her body leaving a silhouette on the ground, sometimes by indent, sometimes covered in ash or blood or leaves, or by constructing the female form out of sticks or wax.

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I find them haunting because she died in 1985, aged 36, and they remind me of graves.

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To me her works symbolise a relationship between person and earth, a giving and taking, a mutual consequence, a connection.

I find them beautiful, because often we forget our connectedness with things all around us, not just the earth, but with other people, with families, with history, with ideas, even with the different parts of ourselves.  We feel alone and arrogant or alone and meaningless.

But Mendieta’s works are a tangible and gloriously physical reminder that we have a relationship with the earth.  There is interplay, there is impact, there is consequence.

What mark will you leave on the earth?  What mark will the earth leave on you?

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The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.

Haldir in The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien