People with AIDS

This extraordinary book is about fifteen people with AIDS. It is about bravery and cowardice, style and weakness, honesty and self-deception, humor and bitterness. It is about the endless patience with the banality of this world, and about the rage that accrues as precious time slips away.

Nicholas Nixon’s straightforward and uncontrived photographs combine with Bebe Nixon’s faithful rendering of a myriad of conversations and letters, to make this a difficult and yet eminently important work. This book is a description of a single event, the onslaught of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and how it affected fifteen individuals, their families, and their friends. Each person in the book volunteered to work with the Nixons, and as the nature of the photographs and text make clear, the bonds that developed were powerful and intimate. A testament to a terrible cultural and physical phenomenon, this book is also a rare look at humanity as it faces the struggle of life and death.

Just as Nixon’s memorable pictures of the very old presented a journey into terrain toward which we inevitably move but rarely think about, these portraits of AIDS sufferers draw us into a shadowy place we may delude ourselves into thinking is not a destination in our “healthy” itineraries.
Owen Edwards, American Photographer

These images . . . are the most searing, sobering, and unforgettable photographs of Nixon’s career. They may also be the most powerful images yet taken of the tragedy that is AIDS.
Andy Grunberg, The New York Times

Nicholas Nixon is a photographer, known for his work in portraiture and documentary photography and for championing the use of the 8×10 inch view camera.

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 35 mm 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.”

His first solo exhibition was at the Museum of Modern Art, curated by John Szarkowski in 1976. Nixon’s early city views taken of Boston and New York in the mid-seventies were exhibited at one of the most influential exhibitions of the decade, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape at the George Eastman House in 1975. In the late nineties, Nixon returned to this subject matter to document Boston’s changing urban landscape during the Big Dig highway development project. In 1976, 1980, and 1987, Nixon was awarded National Endowment for the Arts Photography Fellowships. In 1977 and 1986, he was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships.

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.

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. The series has been shown at the St. Louis Art Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the National Gallery of Art. In 2010, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, organized the exhibition “Nicholas Nixon: Family Album,” which included “The Brown Sisters” series among other portraits of his wife, himself, and his children, Sam and Clementine.

Nixon earned a BA from the University of Michigan in 1969 and an MFA from the University of New Mexico in 1975. He has worked as a part-time professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design since 1975.

BeBe Nixon is the wife of photographer Nicholas Nixon, and one of four sisters, whom her husband photographed every year for 40 years in a series called “The Brown Sisters.” BeBe Nixon is a documentary filmmaker. For fifteen years she worked on and eventually produced Public Broadcasting’s Nova series for WGBH in Boston; since 1985 she has worked on non-broadcast documentary educational films.