Photographing the Women of the 116th Congress

Welcome to In Her Words, where women rule the headlines. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox. Let me know what you think at [email protected].


“Nothing has been more wholesome in the political process than the increased involvement of women.”
— Speaker Nancy Pelosi


It was in December, on her first day of shooting, that the photojournalist Elizabeth Herman found herself in a room on Capitol Hill with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “What a way to jump right into political portraiture,” Herman said.

Herman had begun the process of photographing 130 of the record-breaking 131 women who were sworn in to Congress this month — aiming to turn the stereotypical images of traditional American power (think: older white men dressed in suits) on its head.

Herman couldn’t have predicted how mightily Speaker Pelosi’s power would be flexed this week, of course — as she refused to allow President Trump to deliver his State of the Union address in the House chamber while the government is partly closed. (He ultimately bowed, agreeing to wait until the government reopens.)

Nevertheless, it seemed a perfect time to chat with Herman, 30, about her photography series, titled “Redefining Representation,” which aims to “evoke the imagery we are used to seeing in the halls of power, but place people not previously seen as powerful starkly in the frames.” It was co-shot with Celeste Sloman.

[MORE: See all the portraits here.]

What did you hope to accomplish by photographing these women?

To expand what people view as possible and expand what comes into people’s minds when they hear the word “power.” These women are what power is, looks like and can look like.

How did you think about body language and staging as you were working to get your shots?

I think a lot about photographing women: What are the ways that power is taken away from women in visual representations? How can I be mindful of these broader ideas and themes while still also speaking to the woman as an individual? Especially when you’re trying to convey power, and you’re photographing women of color, it’s hard to do it in a way that isn’t trope-y, that isn’t just power posing. A lot of times, women of color, especially black women, are photographed in a way that portrays them as angry.

Also, a lot of these women are really used to having their portraits done — so [it’s about] getting them to not default into a political smile. I find that you have that same issue if you’re photographing teenage girls, where they know exactly their angles.

Some might say that we’ve been oversaturated with coverage of these women. A worthy argument?

The first woman wasn’t elected to Congress until 1917. The first black woman wasn’t elected to the House until 1968. The first woman of color wasn’t elected until 1964. The first black woman in the Senate wasn’t elected until 1992 — I was alive, and I’m not that old.

Saying that we’ve covered all there is to cover about women and women politicians and women in power is just not true.

What was Speaker Pelosi like to photograph?

I knew that Pelosi’s family had known J.F.K., and the official White House portrait of him was so striking. She walked in, and her suit looked very similar to J.F.K.’s suit. So I explained the concept and asked her if she’d be O.K. posing like him. [In the portrait, Kennedy is wearing a tan suit; his arms are crossed and he’s looking down.]

We tried a few different versions — I have ones of her looking down that exactly mimic his photo — but then, when women look down in portraiture, it often reads as demure. So I asked her to look back up at the camera.

Women do have to make edits to the way they look and the way they speak and the way they present themselves in order to be perceived as in power. They cannot just look down and be read as “thinking” — which is what J.F.K.’s portrait is about.

In my mind, though, it was one of the closest nods to the reference photos.

______

Women who communicate regularly with a female-dominated inner circle — or have strong networking ties to two or three women — are more likely to attain high-ranking leadership positions, a new study by the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University found.

For men, the larger their network — regardless of gender makeup — the more likely they are to earn a high-ranking position. But women who have social networks that resemble their male counterparts are more likely to hold low-ranking positions.

In 1917, 128 years after the first United States Congress convened, Jeannette Rankin of Montana won a seat in the House of Representatives, becoming the first woman ever elected to federal office.

A headline in The Times in 1917, about a speech Rankin had given on suffrage and child welfare at Carnegie Hall, proclaimed: “‘Lady From Montana’ Talks.”

Here she is, in a Library of Congress photo, shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of men.

Sign up here to get future installments of In Her Words delivered to your inbox.

Are you on Instagram? Follow us here.

Source link

more recommended stories

  • A Former Congressman and Tea Party Republican Considers a Challenge to Trump

    Mr. Kristol said Mr. Walsh’s comfort.

  • Jay Inslee Ends Campaign for President

    Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who.

  • Bernie Sanders Sets a Goal: Double Union Membership in 4 Years

    ALTOONA, Iowa — Senator Bernie Sanders.

  • American Military Drone Shot Down Over Yemen

    WASHINGTON — An American military drone.

  • In Denmark, Bewilderment and Anger Over Trump’s Canceled Visit

    ODENSE, Denmark — The astonishment in.

  • Putting a Positive Spin on Oil Exploration in the Arctic Refuge

    When the Trump administration first pushed.

  • On Politics: Trump Returns to N.R.A.’s Side

    Gun rights advocates have waged an.

  • President Trump Cancels Trip to Denmark After Greenland Spat

    WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday.

  • Why the 2020 Criminal Justice Debate Is Completely Different

    Marijuana would be decriminalized, mass incarceration.

  • As Wildfires Get Worse, Insurers Pull Back From Riskiest Areas

    “It’s not necessarily the property that’s.

  • Julián Castro Qualifies for the Next Democratic Debate

    The former housing secretary Julián Castro.

  • Trump’s Rollback of Auto Pollution Rules Shows Signs of Disarray

    That means the process is now.

  • On Politics: Trump Prepares for Economic Trouble

    • Justice Department lawyers told the.

  • Jill Biden, Stressing Trump Matchup, Makes a Blunt Case for Her Husband

    Jill Biden laid out the political.

  • Apologies and Scorn Greet News of a Book by Mark Halperin

    Reports of a new book deal.

  • ‘I Am Sorry for Harm I Have Caused,’ Warren Tells Native American Forum – Video

    Channels & Shows Home Search U.S..

  • Elizabeth Warren to Appear at Native American Forum

    SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Senator Elizabeth.

  • ‘I Can Still Smell Him’: For 4 Legislators, This Law Is Personal

    Yuh-Line Niou told no one for.

  • On Politics: Trump’s Economic Conspiracy

    As the economy shows ominous signs,.

  • In Economic Warning Signals, Trump Sees Signs of a Conspiracy

    And signs of damage from Mr..

  • Julián Castro’s Obama Moment – The New York Times

    Mr. Castro divided his remarks into.

  • After Trump Body Shames Him, Supporter Says ‘I Love the Guy’

    Sometimes the self-declared greatest counterpuncher in.

  • U.S. Can Block Migrants Seeking Asylum, but Only in Some States, Appeals Court Rules

    A federal appeals court said Friday.

  • House Panel Will End Recess Early for Gun Safety Votes

    WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee,.

  • Lawmakers Accuse State Dept. of Defying Federal Law by Missing Deadlines for Yemen Reports

    WASHINGTON — In defiance of federal.

  • Debate Flares Over Afghanistan as Trump Considers Troop Withdrawal

    Skeptics say it is naïve to.

  • Trump’s Pittsburgh Speech Was a Paying Gig for Audience

    Thousands of union workers at a.

  • How Stephen Miller Rode an Anti-Immigration Wave to the White House

    Once a lonely cause, restrictionism had.

  • Israel’s Alliance With Trump Creates New Tensions Among American Jews

    A rabbi in St. Louis Park,.

  • In D.C., Trading Politics for a Paddle

    We launched into the Potomac River.

  • Joseph Kennedy III Said to Be Eying Edward Markey’s Massachusetts Senate Seat

    Mr. Kennedy delivered the Democratic response.

  • Eyeing Greenland, Trump Again Mixes Real Estate With Diplomacy

    WASHINGTON — Go ahead and file.