RBG: The Surpreme

For the third time, my job brings me to the commanding marble steps of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.  By now, I’m familiar with the security layout of the building that requires that visitors enter on the 1st Street side, to the left as you approach the Neoclassical behemoth.  Then you go down the long handicapped entrance and past the soaker hoses spraying the neat grass, low bushes and fragrant flowers along the way.  As you walk, consider the public prohibition to enter through the impressive main entrance up the massive steps and past the pillars of justice into the grand foyer and through the doors of democracy upholding our nation’s liberty.  That patriotic and prideful experience is no longer available as we the people are barred from entering the way American citizens have since the building’s construction in 1935.  Gone is the grandeur and seriousness of justice from the initial experience of entering the courthouse. Yet, the feeling intensifies once inside the Supreme Court Building, as you gaze upon the granite walls and hallowed halls which echo the sentiments of the prodigious lawgivers in the history of all mankind.  Your guides are Moses and Confucius, whose sculptures rise up to greet you in the east entrance.

After the usual security check of my bags, I proceed by escort to the portrait room on the second floor that’s used as a gathering spot for photo shoots and meetings with the Justices. The mahogany paneled walls feel like a den or a very large man cave with sparse furnishings except for a few stuffed chairs and dark wood furniture that behaves by sitting up against the walls. A large wall to wall rug protects the floor and an ornate gilded ceiling contains the empty room anchored by two fireplaces on either end.  All eyes are on you. Painted portraits of previous Justices cloaked in black with serious gestures follow your movement.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s pride is evident as she points out her predecessors to guests. Just like in the Pentagon, homage to previous leaders is paid by the prominence of their portraits on the walls. American flags crowned with a gold eagle and tassels are also ubiquitous.

I’m comfortable approaching RBG, as her fan site on Tumblr calls her with “Notorious” added at the beginning by Irin Carmon. We meet for the second time to touch up her makeup and hair for The New Yorker photo shoot just like on a previous occasion for GLAMOUR.  When talking with others, they ask. “How do you get to work with all these interesting people?”  My agent in DC provides me access to the world’s most interesting people.  THE Artist Agency headed by Lynda and Elizabeth operates in this town for over 30 years and I’ve been lucky to have their representation for over a decade.  They match me up with great crews including  these Supreme Court jobs with American photojournalist, Lynsey Addario, whose memoir “It’s What I Do” highlights her work as a woman in combat zones and photo editor for Men’s Fitness  and former photo director for GLAMOUR Brian Marcus, who is a huge fan of everything Washington, D.C.  Together we stroll down the halls to visit RBG’s chambers with her incredible collection of impressionism and modern art including Matisse and Picasso.  Justice Ginsburg is a great supporter of the arts.  When we glimpse an empty space on the wall, which looks like a piece of her collection has been stolen, she assures us that the hole is intentionally left blank because the painting is on loan to the Smithsonian.  While we take in the sights of her office and she reflects on the shoot, she tells the story of how her fashion statement of wearing gloves came to be.  A friend convinces her to start wearing gloves after her illness as a way to keep the germs away while she shakes hands with the many people who she interacts with throughout her day and career. Along with the frilly sheer gloves, her wardrobe is immaculate and fashionable. She even goes out on a limb to wear a necklace the stylist offers to her for her judicial robe.  At the GLAMOUR Women of the Year Lifetime Achievement acceptance speech, she mentions how she got them to add pockets to the judicial robes for the women, which is a first; because they ( Sandra Day O’Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) are at disadvantage because there are no pockets to use like the men have.

On another occasion for The New Yorker photo shoot, with the international photography team of Sofia & Mauro, we again have a pleasant session and an easy time interacting.  On this day, RBG’s security guard pulls me aside to say, “What are you guys, like best friends or something?” He notices how easily I interact with RBG and implies that we are lucky to be escorted by Justice Bader Ginsburg to her chambers and into the court room where so much history’s made.  He emphasizes that our experience is unique.

When we get to her chambers, now in the room for the second time for me, I notice a photograph of her with Placido Domingo on the fireplace mantle.  The Maestro’s arms are raised in celebration and song as she approaches the stage of Harvard University’s graduation ceremony.  The crimson and black robes, the pomp and circumstance and the honors jump out of the picture from that sunny day.  Back in her room, her eyes light up and a smile brakes out from the gentle frame of her body as she tells us that photo is a reflection of her favorite experience in life.  Domingo, her beloved opera star, is singing her acceptance of an honorary degree being awarded to her from Harvard.  I nod with understanding of how charming he is and tell her how much I appreciate his debonair ways from the day of doing his grooming for the Washington National Opera.  Having just arrived off a red eye from LA, Placido caves when he originally is unwilling to do a photo shoot with Bryan Adams for the Hear the World campaign for Phonak.

“Anything for a beautiful woman!” he hums.

She continues smiling in agreement.  At that moment, we make an instant connection.  Her love of the arts is contagious. Her intellect only matched by Hillary Clinton.  For me, the pinnacle of a job well done is the invitation to GLAMOUR Women of the Year awards ceremony in NYC for the Lifetime Achievement winner, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  To become an instant best friend to the justice, whose guard may be in bewilderment, but this Celebrity Makeup Artist can say Notorious RGB is a reality.

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