In August 2007, Peter Ensenberger, then the director of photography at Arizona Highways, asked me to photograph Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who had retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006, for a six-page feature story. It took four months to coordinate with her assistant for one hour on a December morning, and I was told Mrs. O’Connor would be available from 8 to 9 a.m.
However, when my assistant and I arrived at Mrs. O’Connor’s home, she was in the middle of a phone call to Washington, D.C. — although she was retired, she was still active with the Supreme Court and offered guidance as needed. I’m a methodical photographer, and I like to have some time to work through my thoughts before making someone’s portrait, so the time constraints were a little unsettling. (As an added challenge, I was using a 4x5 field camera, which made me an even slower photographer.) While Mrs. O’Connor continued her call, I started scouting, and by 8:30, I’d found a setting I thought would work.
Mrs. O’Connor was warm and friendly and took my suggestions during the shoot, and it was obvious that she’d been photographed thousands of times. By 8:55, though, I’d made one photograph (above), which wasn’t nearly enough for a six-page story. With time running out, I did my best to emulate the many lawyers who had stood before her and tried to persuade her to rule in their favor. I made my case for one more hour to make more photos, and because her house didn’t offer many other visual opportunities, I asked if she would meet me at the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, a mile away, so I could photograph her in a natural Arizona environment. She agreed but said it would have to be in the afternoon, because she had more calls scheduled that day.
That afternoon, she met me at the preserve’s parking lot. It was chilly, and as we walked up the small hill to the spot I had chosen, I noticed that her long black coat looked like the robes she had worn as a Supreme Court justice. It was perfect.
I’ll always be thankful that Mrs. O’Connor gave me more time that day and allowed me to make another photo (top). And, in light of her recent passing, I’m thankful for everything she did for our country.