Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nicholas Nixon's New Project

In 1991, David R. Godine published People with AIDS, photographs by Nicholas Nixon, the distinguished large-format photographer from Brookline, and text by Bebe Nixon. Fifteen extraordinary people with AIDS volunteered to work with the Nixons; Nicholas Nixon's straightforward and uncontrived photographs combine with Bebe Nixon's faithful rendering of a myriad of conversations and letters. The 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. Andy Grunberg (New York Times) offered praise: "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."

Yesterday the Boston Globe featured Nicholas Nixon's new project: nude portraits of adults at home. From the Globe:

He’s not interested in what’s sexy, he said. “I’m interested in who’s home.’’

Unfortunately, for Nixon, not enough people are opening the door.

Never has he had so much trouble finding subjects. When he was looking to shoot couples, he advertised in local newspapers and “people called up by the flocks.’’ For his project on people over 100, he asked for referrals from doctors at Boston Medical Center and was swamped with volunteers. To find mothers of babies, he joined a Jamaica Plain mothers’ chat group and got 200 subjects in a month.

Not this time, although it’s not for want of trying. He asks everyone he meets if they will pose for him. He’s put word out to fellow faculty members at MassArt. He posted a request with his neighborhood association chat group, phrasing it carefully so it won’t sound like a Craigslist come-on, promising to “make the pictures as beautiful and faithful as I can’’ and offering complete control over what might be published. He’s gone back to the mothers’ chat group, but instead of 200 replies, this time he only got three or four.
. . .

“I’ve learned everybody’s body is a bigger part of life than I thought,’’ Nixon said. “It’s a secret just to them or whoever their sweetheart is. The mortician sees it at the end. Doctors and nurses see it along the way. But you guard it for yourself, and there is something very artificial about taking [your clothes] off for a viewer. . . . I guess I’ve learned there is something a little sacred about one’s body, and I’ve learned how to be more humble, more appreciative of the gift of their suspending that for me.’’

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