I viewed these photographs–portraits of the four Brown sisters taken year after year for thirty years–for the first time when I was a teenager.  It was in a gallery, I don’t remember where, and I was with my mother.



Right there in the gallery I remembered a photograph of my mother and her four sisters walking through a wintery field in coats and bell-bottomed jeans: Thanksgiving Day, 1975 or so.  The Giebel sisters were to me as beautiful as the Brown sisters–no, even more, because I know some (not all–not nearly all) of the time-tissue that connects the photograph with the living women.

I spent way too much time in the gallery that day, trying to account for every new furrow, fashion, and wrinkle in the Brown sisters’ faces. I found myself making up names, personalities, and reasons for why one held the hand of the second sister but turned away from the third; why one grew heavy while another grew thin.  Why one aged quickly while another seemed to age not at all.  I could have stood there for hours, wondering about these four women, reading their lives on their faces. It was the moment I knew I wanted to tell stories about families.