Renowned photographer Nicholas Nixon has abruptly retired from his position as a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) following allegations from multiple students that his behavior crossed the line from provocative art to inappropriate sexual harassment.
The New York Times reported on March 25th that the 70-year-old Nixon had stepped down and that MassArt has launched a Title IX investigation to see whether Nixon had violated the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. MassArt President David Nelson announced the inquiry in this letter sent to students and faculty:
The Boston Globe just published a report on the specific accusations being made against Nixon after conducting months of research and interviewing more than a dozen of Nixon’s former students.
“For one assignment, the acclaimed professor asked students to photograph seven people they wanted to sleep with,” the Globe reports. “For another, a female student was allegedly told to shoot 10 penises, while a male counterpart was asked to snap 10 vaginas. And why not start the assignment, the professor suggested, with each other?”
Other students say they were asked to analyze photos of Nixon’s genitalia, asked to pose partially or fully nude, told vulgar remarks about their own bodies, asked to be “an old friend with a benefit” via private email, and shown nude photos Nixon had captured of fellow female classmates.
“Artists are always pushing boundaries between provocative and inappropriate, and then that line gets crossed and it becomes very clear,” 2012 MassArt grad Robin Myers tells the Globe. “The penis photo incident was where that line became very clear for me.”
Nixon denies that his conduct crossed the line from art to sexual harassment.
“I encourage students to accept and use their sexuality [as] part of their putting the best they have into their work,” Nixon tells the Globe. “I have never hit on, touched or done anything personal.
“I realize that I should have censored myself more. To those students, I offer my profound apology.”
Nixon is perhaps best known for his project “The Brown Sisters.” He shot a group portrait of four sisters (one of whom is his wife) every year for 40 years starting in 1975.