Women in Congress
Overview of this campaign
The Times set out to document the record number of women who joined Congress in January 2019, showing not only their diversity in terms of race, religion and background, but also the geographic sweep of the districts they represent.
“We have written tons of stories on the elections and who got elected,” Beth Flynn, deputy photo editor at The Times, said. “But I think this is a smart, elegant way to see change.”
Rather than selecting only one of the women for the cover of the section, or minimizing their stature by using multiple images, one of the art directors, Andrew Sondern, suggested taking advantage of the 27 printing plants The Times uses around the country and featuring a woman from each of those regions for the cover in that area. In other words, 27 different covers.
Ms. Herman, who is also a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, has studied how portraits have appeared historically. Typically, artists depicted American political figures, like George Washington or Calvin Coolidge, formally dressed, posed in grand-looking rooms with objects of significance like a sword or a book.
“These portraits conveyed that they were important, powerful men,” Ms. Herman said. “We have a different class of lawmakers than we have had before, and why shouldn’t they get access to that imagery, access to that gravitas, that the generations before them did?”
Ms. Herman brought the idea to photograph members of Congress, in the style of historical political portraits, to Marisa Schwartz Taylor, a photo editor in the Washington bureau of The Times. The photo editors, who had been considering a similar project, suggested they take portraits of all the women of Congress and assigned the photographer Celeste Sloman to partner with Ms. Herman.
Working from a multi-tabbed spreadsheet, they contacted each congressional office individually. “We had no idea if it would be possible,” Ms. Herman said.
On two separate trips, the two photographers drove from New York, lugged their equipment through security on Capitol Hill and set up their lights and backdrops.
As news of the project spread, congressional offices that had been difficult to reach contacted Ms. Herman and Ms. Sloman directly to be photographed. Only one woman, Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, wasn’t available to be photographed.
Results for this campaign
The response to the section was beyond our expectations, although we began to get an inkling about the interest when people from around the newsroom began lining up to look at each of the covers as they were being prepared for publication.
Still, on the day of publication, social media exploded in excitement and praise, a collectors' race started to gather each of the 27 covers and a congressional staff member emailed Mr. Herman to say, "Everyone on the Hill is looking for copies of today's Times! You created a run for them in Capitol Hll stores."
Interest went far beyond the Capitol too. Photographs began appearing on Instagram and Twitter of little girls looking over the pages. Women wrote to us to say they were in tears looking at the section or to say they were saving it for their young daughters to see when they grew older.
A middle school librarian in Seattle created a display for students. The section was hung on the walls of cafes and coffeehouses.
The former Speaker of the House in Vermont - the first woman to hold that position - wrote: "The insert is striking at many levels. For a Vermonter, it’s particularly striking because Vermont is the only state in the entire country never to have elected a woman to Congress. Maybe next time the NY Times creates a portrait gallery like this, the diversity of representation will include a Vermonter!"
Other media took notice too, with stories that included these: