Friday, July 17, 2020

Supreme Court Group Photographs: An Online Exhibit

The Office of the Curator of the Supreme Court of the United States has released an on-line exhibit, All Together for the Camera: A History of the Supreme Court’s Group Photograph.  From its introduction:
Few visual cues say “Supreme Court” as well as its group photograph. While this custom probably began at the urging of Washington photographers interested in print sales, it ended up becoming one of the Court’s most popular and enduring traditions.

Taft Court, 1924 (LC)
For 75 years after the first group photograph in 1867, the Justices gathered occasionally for a succession of several talented photographers who had just as many approaches for portraying the Justices. The Court eventually settled on some ground rules—for example, posing together only after a new Justice arrived, and in an arrangement based on seniority. Since 1941, the group photograph has been taken in the Supreme Court Building, which helped standardize it even further. All of the visual elements familiar today fell into place when the first officially approved group photograph was taken, in color, in 1965.

In the 19th century, a group photograph was typically seen in person—prints were purchased by tourists as collectible mementos, by autograph collectors who sought to add the Justices’ signatures, and by law firms which would hang framed copies on office walls. By the turn of the 20th century, they were seen by a much wider audience due to an explosion of published images in books, magazines and newspapers. In the 21st century, the group photograph straddles both worlds: over a century of print and digital media have made the image an instantly recognizable icon, while the 19th century ritual of Justices individually autographing a small number of original prints also remains an enduring tradition.
--Dan Ernst  H/t: JLG