Lelanie Foster talks about the portrait of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and its symbolism

On Friday, April 8, the day after Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic Senate confirmation, she sat down for an equally iconic portrait, taken by Bronx photographer Lelanie Foster. The image, showing the judge posed and standing, recalls the meaning of hard work, hope and promise defined by the judges who came before her – people like Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor – each a first in itself.

“I wanted to do something different, something modern,” Foster tells Bustle of the informal style of portraiture, which the White House doesn’t often commission. “They wanted to do something special, and rightly so. We wanted a more editorial approach.

Foster’s photo, which has been celebrated by mononymous celebrities like Oprah and Beyoncé, quickly came together. She was officially confirmed as a photographer on the morning of April 7, and she drove overnight from New York to Washington, D.C. Friday morning, after White House security checks and COVID-19 testing, Foster and her two aides had about two hours to set up the shoot — and a mere 40 minutes with Jackson.

Luckily, “there were only smiles and laughs the whole time,” she says. (This is not the official Supreme Court portrait of Jackson, so the White House will defer to Jackson for his ultimate placement, according to a White House spokesperson.)

Foster (left) had about 40 minutes with Judge Jackson (right). Daniel Johnson; Lelanie Foster

Foster, 35, credits his early years in photo production with training him to work smart and efficiently. “I come from that mindset. Work in photo production at [the talent agency] Art + Commerce, I was immersed in fashion photography, all those big sets and stuff. I learned the importance of being 1,000% prepared,” she says, especially as a woman of color in an industry largely dominated by white men.

Throughout his career, Foster, who is young and short, has often heard, “Oh, you don’t look like a photographer. “Obviously that’s not a good comment, but people are constantly questioning you and underestimating you as a woman,” she says. So triumph beyond expectation is something she and Jackson share — which, for the latter, was underscored by the scrutiny she faced during her confirmation hearing. four days.

In Foster’s photo, Jackson looks stunning. She stands in front of the neoclassical interior of the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), a room that today is used for meetings and receptions. A seamless gray backdrop, attached to a dark wood stand, separates Jackson from the building’s architecture. It and the backdrop are positioned slightly to the left of the hall’s Greek facade. Her face catches the glow of the studio lighting – she is pointed into the light.

“I had the idea to bring in the backdrop so that the composition would really highlight it,” says Foster. “The focus is not just on space, place and work. It’s really about her.

The choice of composition seems symbolic of this moment in American history. About a year prior, on January 6, 2021, the former president stood outside the White House, next to the EEOB, and urged his supporters to march to the Capitol. At the tumultuous start of a hitherto unpredictable decade, black women have stepped up in major ways as thinkers, leaders and organizers, all of whom have been needed to recalibrate a country in crisis. Black women have continued to break down barriers in “rooms of power”, which have traditionally been white-dominated – an idea further captured by Foster’s recent work for The New York Timesfor which she photographed black students at Harvard Law School, Jackson’s alma mater.

In choosing the winning photo, Foster wanted the entire Jackson family involved, especially since they were all there: the judge; her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson; and the couple’s two daughters, Talia and Lelia. “I made it very clear to her that I wanted her to be involved in selecting the image that would come out into the world, and to be in the world,” says Foster. “We were in conversation the whole time, with her approaching the monitor, reacting to different images and responding to different poses; her daughters would rush in and give their two cents.

In the end, the family rallied around an image. “She’s still beautiful,” recalls Patrick Foster, but the final choice had the right amount of “resilience” and “relief,” he told her.

It captures Jackson in his moment of victory and clearly in Foster’s artistic voice. In addition to regular contributions to The New York TimesFoster campaigned for Nike and won acclaim for her cast portraits for the film Queen and Slim. “I come from a dance background,” she adds, “so I’m always looking for serenity, graceful moments, to catch someone in a gaze where they just feel. I always come from a place of honor, celebration and gratitude.

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