Forever Stamped: Bermingham Photo Inspires RBG Stamp
By October 10, 2023 0 637•
“I never dreamed it would end up as a stamp when I took her portrait,” said Philip Bermingham of his photo of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Quite remarkable. … I didn’t really process it until I saw the 10-foot-high stamp on the stage at the unveiling and thought, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a stamp.’ ”
At the National Portrait Gallery on Oct. 2, the U.S. Postal Service held an elaborate stamp unveiling ceremony — with operatic performances cherished by Ginsburg filling the courtyard before it began — attended by hundreds, including Supreme Court Justices, past and present, members of Congress, legal luminaries and the Ginsburg family. Celebratory cake was served, Ginsburg stamps sold (for 66 cents each).
“She was an unlikely pioneer, a diminutive woman whose soft voice belied a spine of steel,” Nina Totenberg said. “And by the time she was in her late 80s, she was — to her astonishment, and I have to say to her pleasure — something of a rock star to women and men of all ages. She was the subject of two movies, merchandise galore featuring her Notorious RBG moniker, a Time magazine cover and Saturday Night Live sketches that invariably ended with Ginsburg imitator Kate McKinnon declaring, “And that’s the Ginsburn!”
The Postal Service’s Lori Dym, who clerked for Ginsburg, recalled attending the opera with her at the Kennedy Center and the standing ovations that would erupt when the audience recognized Ginsburg’s arrival. The justice “would gently wave her arms to motion everyone to sit down, but it still took several minutes,” joked Kym, adding, “And people think Taylor Swift is a rock star.”
The Postal Service liked Bermingham’s photo of Ginsburg, after seeing it in his first book, “Portraiture: On The Job.” Happily, he had met this unique Washington star because they both resided at the Watergate.
“They made 62 million stamps, and they’re forever,” said the Washington and worldwide photographer of the postal selection during a conversation in his sun-drenched Watergate home the day after the official unveiling of the stamp. “I bought quite a few to use for my correspondence from now on.”
“I collected stamps as a kid,” he continued. “I was really into it. Honestly, that’s where I learned my geography.” He managed to buy three-penny blacks, one of the first stamps.
The lad from Liverpool moved to Bermuda as a police officer and then turned to photography full time in McLean. He now lives on a top floor of Watergate West with sweeping views of the Potomac River, Georgetown and sunsets — and also loves his place at Biddeford Pool, Maine.
So, what’s next for the lively, affable 72-year-old? “I want to do a book on influencers … people who changed the world,” said Bermingham, who added the project is not quite worked out and will likely take a couple of years.
He has never tired of his life’s work, now a 45-year career. “I get to meet the most interesting people,” he said. “It’s a very intimate thing, a portrait session. People will tell you things they don’t normally talk about …” Luckily for The Georgetowner, Bermingham has shot some 30 covers.
As for the woman with whom he is forever stamped, he said: “When I photographed her, she showed me and my daughter Scarlett this big wardrobe and selected the gold collar.” (On the stamp, RBG is sporting her dissent collar.)
In her chambers, he photographed the justice from below and made her slightly extend her neck and shoulder. “The image was engaging, like you’re the only one in the room,” Bermingham said. “I knew I had it.” The photo projects power — with even more fierceness added to the portrayal on the stamp.
And the final verdict? Ginsburg told Bermingham: “I’m not dissenting about this portrait.”