It can sometimes feel like life is flying by and you’re not taking time out of your day to document how much you appreciate the people around you. That’s not an issue for the Brown sisters.
Photographer Nicholas Nixon, the husband to Bebe Brown, took a photo of his wife and her three sisters Heather, Mimi, and Laurie, in 1975. Instead of just stopping there, the sisters and Nixon decided to turn the family photo into a project and meet up every year for 40 years to take the same photo. I’m glad they did because these beautiful photos truly show how family is forever.
1975, The Sisters Begin Their Journey
Nixon and the Browns started off their photo journey in 1975—the year Jaws swept American film audiences off their feet. A theme in Nixon’s project that stays consistent is that he offers no caption for the photo other than the date and location.
This allows the audience to speculate about who the sisters grow up to be and where their lives take them. Here, from left to right is Heather, Mimi, Bebe, and Laurie. The sisters were (in no particular order) twenty-five, twenty-three, fifteen, and twenty-one.
1976, Saw Some Matching Happening
Whether the sisters are aware of it or not, they often match for these photos. They often choose to wear clothes with similar cuts, prints, and styles. However, Laurie and Bebe look like they’re wearing the exact same dress.
They could’ve done this as a joke—which shows an unexpectedly playful side of the sisters in these serious portraits. This goes in line with the comical nature of the year since, in ’76, BBC convinced listeners that a planetary alignment would decrease gravity on earth shortly. Many called in saying they felt it.
1977, Do You Think The Sisters Were Star Wars Fans?
In 1977, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, was released to box office acclaim and many Americans were caught up in the fandom fever. “May the force be with you” was one of the most popular quotes of the year.
I can’t see any Star Wars merchandise on the sisters, nor any Princess Leia hair buns, but they could’ve very well been fans of the series. Reportedly, the future director of Titanic, James Cameron, quit his job as a truck driver after seeing the movie.
1978, The Sisters Probably Saw Grease
In 1977, the memorable John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John movie Grease came out and took America by storm. So did National Lampoon’s Animal House—much to the chagrin of many parents.
I can’t see if the sisters are wearing leather pants, but they very well could be there. Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac were also immensely popular during this time, so the sisters could’ve very well been into the more bohemian scene than the Grease one.
1979, On The Brink Of A New Decade
The sisters were gearing up to ring in the new decade by taking another commemorative photo. The top song of the year in ’79 was My Sharona by The Knack, so they could’ve very well been listening to it as they posed.
It’s so interesting to see that, even 40 years later, the outfits the women are wearing are still fashions you could see someone wearing today. It just goes to show that neither style nor sisterly love has changed all that much.
1980, The Brown Sisters Looked Joyful Here
Instead of photographing the women in the serious way that he had been doing, Nixon seems to have caught the women in a moment they were enjoying each other’s company.
I wonder if they were celebrating a happy event and that’s the reason for the switch up? Maybe there was a wedding or a graduation happening in a sister’s life. We’ll never know, but it’s nice to see them happy.
1981, These Women Were Probably Thinking About Working As Adults
It’ll blow your mind, but the minimum wage back in 1981 was $3.10/hour. Today, for comparison, it’s $7.25. The Brown sisters, all in their 20s, except for Bebe, could’ve all been working minimum wage jobs at the time of the photo.
For comparison, a bag of Lays chips was $1.98 back then and today they’re $2.98. So minimum wage more than doubled and Lays chips went up 50%. It’s good to see our wages are increasing as the costs of living are too.
1982, It Looked Like A Cold Day For The Browns
A fun fact about 1982 is that Sony Walkmans were about $130. This is crazy if you think about it, since today, Sony’s MP3 Walkman players range anywhere from $100-$4000.
We can clearly see that the Brown sisters are all bundled up in winter gear here, so it’s interesting that Nixon chose to shoot them outside on a cold day. Maybe they were vacationing this time and he wanted to capture the moment and thought the chilly photo was fitting for his collection.
1983, Jenga Was Introduced—Do You Think They Were Playing It?
In 1983, Jenga, that iconic toppling stacking block game, was introduced at the London Toy Fair. I wonder if the Brown sisters heard about the new toy and wanted to get their hands on it. I’m also curious who’d be the best at Jenga.
I really enjoy what Nixon has the sister’s doing here—having Heather and Laurie closer to the camera in a semi-circle gives the effect like the viewer is a part of the women’s conversation. It’s a unique way to communicate how personal these photos are.
1984, We Can Almost See Nixon
Today it looks like we’ve interrupted the sisters during a day at the beach—see the sand and water behind them? This is one of the only photographs where we can almost see what Nixon looks like. I wonder why he chose to include a shadowy version of himself in this sunny photo?
An interesting fact about 1984 is that Baby on Board stickers in cars had just begun to gain popularity since they help emergency workers identify babies in emergency situations.
1985, It’s Been An Entire Decade Of Photos!
It’s crazy to think, but the Brown sisters and Nixon have been at this project for an entire decade! The sisters are now (in no particular order) thirty-five, thirty-three, twenty-five, and thirty-one. How time flies!
Another crazy piece of history from that year was that this was the year that “New Coke” was introduced by Coca Cola. It lasted until 2002—thankfully, they haven’t discontinued my favorite yet, Cherry Coke.
1986, Up Close And Personal
Instead of showing us a full picture of the sister’s 80s fashion, Nixon takes the viewer up close and personal with the sisters. They all look pretty happy too—I wonder if something good happened that they can’t wait to tell the viewer about.
The top song this year was the hit, That’s what friends are for by Dionne Warwick. It’s an awesome song, but photos like these make me wonder if they should release a sister-themed version…
1987, Mimi And Bebe Take Center Stage
I’m curious what Nixon’s motive was here for placing his wife Bebe (right) and Mimi the closest to the camera in this shot. Maybe it was a big year for the two of them—if only we knew what, and if, they were celebrating.
This fun fact about ’87 will make you happy—a can of Campbell’s soup was priced at 99 cents. Luckily, inflation didn’t work its magic totally and we can often still find these for this price today.
1988, ’80s Prints Coming In Strong
Look at Laurie! she’s rocking the cheetah print! This is the only hint of the signature ’80s bold patterns and prints that we’ve seen the sisters participate in. I’m glad she wore this shirt—though, I’d like to know what color the cheetah print is. I’m hoping for neon pink.
This year the movie Rain Man was released—I wonder if any of the women went to see it. They might not have seen Scooby-Doo though since the animated movies went on a brief hiatus due to bad audience reception.
1989, Heather Was Hiding
Heather’s hiding in the background, almost completely hidden by Mimi in the foreground. I wonder if she could’ve been pregnant in the photo and Nixon didn’t want to show that. If that’s the case, maybe his reasoning was keep the viewers from drawing assumptions about their lives outside of the photos.
The Sony Walkman also decreased in price this year—shooting down from $130 in 1982 to $79 in 1989. Personally, I wish they would’ve stayed that cheap.
1990, It Was A Cold Day At The Beginning Of The Decade
Not only is it the start to the greatest and “grungiest” decade yet, but it also saw the sisters embracing each other on a cold winter day. I like how, despite all of them being individuals, they sometimes wear similar things that subtly show their sisterly bond. Today, it’s Mimi and Bebe in denim and Heather and Laurie in fleece.
1990 was the year that the first crash between two cars with airbags occurred. Both drivers walked away with minor injuries in a crash that would’ve been fatal without airbags.
1991, You Can Really Tell They’re Sisters Here
Sometimes, when people are younger, it can be harder to see family resemblances. But now that the Brown sisters have been taking these photos for over 15 years, you can really start to see how similar they look. I’m having trouble telling Mimi, Heather, and Laurie apart.
The hit 1991 Nirvana song (do you think the Brown women liked Nirvana?) Smells Like Teen Spirit was named after an actual deodorant. Apparently, Kurt Cobain’s girlfriend wore “Teen Spirit.”
1992, Could Mimi Be Pregnant?
If there’s one thing we know, it’s that Nixon seems very specific with the way that he wants the Brown women posed. It seems like he wants to give the audience clues about what the sister’s lives are like without being obvious about it.
The way that Heather is holding and looking at Mimi’s stomach makes me think that she might be pregnant. Laurie also seems to be looking at Mimi too, which makes me think Nixon is dropping clues Mimi is the one in focus here. We’ll never know though…
1993, Looks Like The Browns Stayed Up Late For This Shot
While most of the pictures of the women look like they were taken in the middle of the day, this one looks like it was taken at night with a flash. The women look like they’re in light summer sweaters to stay warm as the sun sets.
Hopefully, this was a creative choice and not one that happened because Nixon couldn’t get a shot all day that he liked. I’m sure that’s not the case — after almost twenty years of photos, the sisters are definitely practiced models.
1994, The Women Cozied Up To The Cameras
The sisters have taken a similar photo to this one! Back in 1986, eight years ago, Nixon posed the sisters in a close-up indoor shot like this one. I wonder if similar events happened those years or if they were visiting the same place.
A big event that happened in 1994 was that at Woodstock, Green Day was performing and they started a massive mud fight. The band and the stage was so covered in mud that guitarist Mike Dirnt was mistaken for a fan, thrown off-stage, and lost teeth after being punched by a security guard. Maybe the Browns attended.
1995, Big Hugs All Around
Something I’ve noticed about Nixon is that he’s careful not to show the sisters with a lot of jewelry on—specifically wedding rings. Even though he’s married to Bebe, we haven’t seen her wearing her ring in many years, if at all. Maybe she lost it?
A not-so-fun fact about the year is that 37 Americans were killed by vending machines falling over onto them. Maybe this number would be reduced if machines would finally accept bills that are slightly wrinkled.
1996 Featured Some Dramatic Lighting
Back in 1984, the Browns took a similar photo where Nixon’s shadow appeared on them. 12 years later, that’s the case again! I’m curious why Nixon chose this year to present himself again, and what the meaning behind his shadow almost covering his wife Bebe’s face is.
To many parent’s chagrin, in 1996, “Tickle Me Elmo” was introduced into the market. I’m sure I don’t have to remind many parents, that day is already engraved in their minds.
1997, The Year Princess Diana Passed
This photo looks like the sisters are a folk band or pop stars with windswept hair. Though, I’m sure nobody actually hauled a wind machine to wherever they took this photo.
This is the same year that Princess Diana tragically died in a car crash in Paris. I wonder if the reason why the sisters are dressed in black and monochrome colors is that they’re fans of the royals and had recently heard the sad news.
1998, Bebe Is Featured Front And Center
I think it’s beautiful how the three sisters look like they’re rallying around Bebe and supporting her as she stands front and center. They all look happy, except for Mimi. Maybe Nixon has just said something she’s objecting too.
It’s crazy to think, but this year was the first year that US female life expectancy had reached 79.5! Before, for a few decades, female life expectancy had been hovering around 78. Male life expectancy in 1998 was at 73.8.
1999, It Was A Windy Morning
The Brown sisters are back at the beach! They’ve returned once again to the beach they first visited in the photos back in 1984—except this time it’s a little chillier. I wonder if this is a popular family vacation spot for the Browns.
Speaking of vacation, the popular fisherman’s trip memorabilia “Big Mouth Billy Bass” the singing fish was introduced. Hopefully, the sisters weren’t subjected to its repetitive and monotone singing at their vacation cottage.
2000, Happy New Century!
To celebrate the new century, Nixon takes us back to another shot of the sisters on the beach. This is the farthest away he’s taken a photo in years. Maybe the distance is to symbolize how far the project has come—25 years!
The world population finally hit 6 billion this year! It had been creeping up to the number for decades but hadn’t quite crossed the boundary. It’s only fitting that the new number would come with a new century.
2001, Where Were The Sisters During 9/11?
9/11 was the biggest and saddest world-changing event that happened on American soil that year. Nixon’s photographs show us that though we may never forget, life still goes on.
It looks like the sisters were caught on a beach vacation with both Heather and Laurie wearing Hawaiian-esque shirts. I think the happiness of these vacationing sisters and the way they’re embracing each other here is a beautiful reminder, especially in 2001, that we should cherish each other while we can.
2002, Polo Was Apparently The “It-Shirt”
Maybe a Ralph Lauren store had just opened up in the Brown sister’s town, or maybe they all wanted to dress similarly to show their bond. Whatever the reason, they all rocked a polo this year, with the exception of Heather.
Remember me talking about “New Coke” that was introduced back in 1986? Well, in 2002, after 16 years, it was discontinued and Coke brought back “Coca Cola Classic.” I wonder if the Browns liked it.
2003, Spot Heather’s Techy New Cell Phone And Mimi’s New Hair!
I think it’s great that not only do we get a snapshot into the Brown sister’s respective lives with these photos, but we also get a little picture of how far technology has come. Check out Heather’s flip phone! Today that thing would be considered a fossil.
An interesting technological fact is that the original Dunkin donut came with a handle for dipping into coffee. It was discontinued in 2002 because it had to be made by hand (and not machines).
2004, Shoreline Staredown
I wonder what Laurie is looking over at Heather for? I think this is the first time these two have been so front and center in a photograph together. Maybe it was a big year for the two women—career, family, or hobby-wise.
You’re going to love this news—remember when I said that Campbell’s soup cost 99 cents in 1987? Well, in 2002 the price dropped down to 79 cents. That’s one heck of a cheap meal.
2005, Laurie’s Looking Away Again
Laurie’s really been keeping an eye out these past few years for her sisters. Honestly, that’s really sweet of her to do and a great way for Nixon to show how protective over her sisters Laurie is. At least, that’s what I’m assuming the photo communicates.
Maybe she’s keeping an eye out for people wearing colanders on their heads since in 2005, the religion “Pastafarianism, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” was founded and its members wear colanders.
2006, It’s A Sunny Day Wherever The Browns Are
Seeing these loving sisters seriously brightens my day, and it looks like I’m not the only one! Even the sunshine takes a liking to these awesome women since it’s shining down so brightly on them in this close-up.
Do you remember when Blu Rays replaced DVDs? Well, that happened in 2006. You can thank Blu Rays for the high-quality streaming you’re watching since they can store five times more information than DVDs.
2007, Mimi Hides While Heather and Bebe Stand Proud
The sisters have shuffled again. This time it’s Bebe and Heather in the front while Mimi and Laurie hang out in the background. I’m loving how confident Bebe looks with her assertive stance (and pretty bracelet).
It’s crazy to think that so much of this article has been comparing the price of the Sony Walkman—because a new player has arrived. In 2006, the first iPhone was introduced and sold for $599. Today’s most recent model, the iPhone 11, costs $979.
2008, We Got A Sister Snuggle And Nixon’s Fingerprints
I love how intimate and sweet this photo of the four of them looks in this. You can really see how time hasn’t broken down their bond and I love how Nixon has captured that here. Also, he probably inadvertently captured his own fingertips.
Also, funnily enough, after years of public education on the subject, the NOAA recommends walking to safety in the event of a lightning storm instead of crouching.
2009, The Sisters Look Peaceful Together
I think it’s really precious how Laurie’s head is resting on Bebe. Hers and all the other sister’s close body language just show how close they are with one another.
While the sisters are relaxing in each other’s presence, the song Teach Me How To Dougie by musician Cali Swag District topped music charts and is still one of the most popular dance songs in the entire world.
2010, The Sisters Gazed Off, All Except Bebe
I’d love to know what Heather, Mimi, and Laurie are looking at and why Bebe Doesn’t feel like taking a glance. When you remember that her husband is behind the camera, I think it’s sweet that she’s the one still looking on lovingly.
Strangely enough, Moriusaq, Greenland, a settlement on the island country had a population of three until 2010. That’s when a self-defense case dropped the population down to two. There’s nobody living there now and Greenland considers the settlement “closed.”
2011, Heather Seems To Like Holding Mimi’s Arm Up
Sisters are always finding ways to grab and nitpick at each other—and this photo just proves that! A funny little trend in the photos maybe Nixon hasn’t noticed is that Heather seems to like putting her hand in Mimi’s armpit. It definitely makes for an entertaining photo.
While the Brown sisters were being funny, the abbreviations “OMG” and “LOL” were added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011 as official words. So if anyone ever corrects you on using them, you can proudly say it’s proper English.
2012, The World Didn’t End, Thankfully
Despite the rumors and the pop culture hype about the world ending in 2012 because of a Nostradamus prediction, the world kept on going, which wasn’t very surprising to many. I’m glad the sisters didn’t buy into the Doomsday rumors and still took their annual photo.
An interesting foodie fact is that before 2012, kale wasn’t the trendy salad food we know it as now. In fact, in the US the biggest kale buyer was Pizza Hut, which they used as a garnish on their salad bars. But not in the actual salads.
2013, The Sisters Take A Little Break
It’s never explained why, in accordance with Nixon’s photo style, but after 2013 the sisters took a break from taking photos for the next four years. There must have been a good reason for the break, especially since this would be their 39th photo.
This year was also the year of a different kind of resignation—Pope Benedict XVI resigned in 2013 and became the first Pope to step down in almost 600 years.
2017, The Last Photo The Sisters Had Taken Together
After not taking a photo for quite a few years, the sisters reunited in 2017 to snap what would be their 40th and last photo for the project. One of the sisters reportedly passed away and the others opted not to continue the series.
Nicholas Nixon’s photos of the Brown sisters continue to inspire and touch the hearts of people who see them—even 40 years after they started. Their project is a testament to sisterhood, love, and the trials we all face in life. I’m thankful I was able to witness their beauty.