Q&A: Nicholas Nixon

© Nicholas Nixon, Clementine and Bebe, Cambridge, 1985

These questions and responses relate to an essay by Gerry Badger called “The Quiet Photograph” in The Pleasures of Good Photographs. Five essays from this book were read as part of the Flak Photo Books Discussion Group. In "The Quiet Photograph" Badger makes an argument for a type of phenomenological photography rooted in the documentary mode that he says is embodied by Nixon and some of the others involved in New Topographics. Nixon agreed to provide brief responses to a few questions based in the chapter. The content of the questions were provided by participant Dawn Roe.

fototazo: Do you feel a need to be more objective or distanced when working with some subjects more than others (his family, for instance, or the terminally ill)? Or to have the pictures appear to be more objective or distanced with some subjects more than others?

Nicholas Nixon: Good question. Yes, some are different. Objective is not the right word. "Kind" or "fair" are more like it. I have to be fair with the Brown sisters for example, because my expressive role has to be smaller so it stays evenly about four people as they go on.

I have to be extra kind to anyone who has less good health or good fortune because I am asking for something large and could not live with myself if when I went away they felt anything less than satisfied, interested even.

f: Do you feel that you take a “style for job” approach so that certain subject matter suggests a particular formal approach?

NN: No.

f: Badger suggests your work exhibits the “quiet photographer approach, and simply show(s) dry facts” with a “studied neutrality” as opposed to other photographers who more aggressively assert the presence of "themselves" in their work – would you agree with such a consideration, in relation with your body of work as a whole?

NN: Not really. I want the pictures to be about something real that can reach across time and sensibility...I have to use my heart and instincts much more than my head. Objective looking perhaps, but not objective...that is boring to me. If you are going to photograph something I think you have to be agressive enough to want to improve on it somehow, not just bring home a record.