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All Together for the Camera:
A History of the Supreme Court’s Group Photograph


1940s-present: Enter the Press

Since 1941, press photographers have taken their own photographs and video footage of the Justices after the official photograph is taken.


 

The Press Photographing the Roberts Court, June 2017

Franz Jantzen (1964- ) for the Supreme Court

Press Photographers 2017

From the time photographs were first published in the 1880s, newspapers and publishers wishing to reproduce the Court’s group photograph had to rely on the single official photograph taken by the Court’s chosen photographer. As the news industry grew, press agencies wanted to take their own and became increasingly frustrated by what they saw as exclusive access for a very select few.

Everything changed in 1941 when Hugo Johnson, President of the White House News Photographers Association, convinced incoming Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone to make some major changes to the arrangements for the official photograph. Not only did the setting move from downtown photographic studios into the new Supreme Court Building, but the Court also agreed to let press photographers for major agencies take their own photographs after the official photographs had been taken. This set in place a general pattern that has been repeated ever since.

Taking the press photographs is a less formal affair than taking the official pose. After the official photographs have been taken in one of the Court’s two large conference rooms, up to a dozen press photographers are then escorted in as a group to take their pictures. Since the press opportunity always involves many photographers working quietly from across the room there is little or no conversation between them and the Justices, who typically end up chatting and joking among themselves during this time.

 

Press Photograph of the Stone Court, October 1941

Unidentified Photographer for Harris & Ewing

Press Photo 1941

 

Press Photograph of the Warren Court, October 1967

Dennis Brack (1939- ) for Black Star

Press Photo 1967

 

Press Photograph of the Rehnquist Court, November 1986

© Lucian Perkins (1952- ) for The Washington Post
Used with permission

Press Photo 1986

 

Press Photographers Photographing the Rehnquist Court, 1990

©Ray Lustig (1938- ) for The Washington Post
Used with permission

Rehnquist Court 1990

 

Building Support Staff Posing While Setting Up for the Group Photograph, January 1976

Unknown Photographer

Labor Force 1976

Dozens of people are involved in taking a new group photograph. After the Justices’ schedules are coordinated by the Curator and a date is chosen, the Public Information Officer notifies the press and participating photographers. Meanwhile, the Marshal’s Building Support staff (above) prepares the room, hangs the velvet drapery, and steams it in place. The Court photographer sets up lights and cameras, while the Public Information Officer and staff work with the press photographers who set up their own. Then, after the official photograph has been taken, the press is escorted in to take both overalls and headshots of the Justices from behind a line for a limited timeā€”in recent years they have been given two minutes.

 

Press Photographers Posing as the Rehnquist Court, November 1986

© Bill Auth (1950- ) for U.S. News & World Report
Used with permission

Press Photographers 1986

Public Information Officer Toni House (back row, on left) poses with eight press photographers in place of the Justices for a test shot prior to the portrait session. In the pre-digital era, preparing for this event included taking a test shot the day before, processing the film and making prints to ensure that the lighting was correct and everything was working properly. The photographer is actually seated in the center chair, and took this photograph with a wireless remote trigger hidden in his hand.

 

 

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