When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford began her testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning, Erin Schaff was one of the few photographers in the room. Only eight were allowed in the room at a time, making the hearing far less accessible than Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing earlier this month—and making Schaff’s experience, in her words, “more intense than I expected.”
One of Schaff’s photos, taken during Dr. Blasey Ford’s swearing-in, captures the silent side of that intensity. In it, the woman’s expression is solemn, her posture straight; she exudes quiet confidence. The image circulated in both online news stories and the Instagram stories of Schaff’s photojournalism colleagues.
“I’ve had so many women and women photographers reach out to me today and say how much it means to them to see that there’s women represented today in the press pool,” says Schaff, a freelance photographer who was shooting for the New York Times. One friend of hers used the app Venmo to send her money for a bottle of wine.
Thursday morning, Schaff was one of four photographers recognized on Twitter by @womenphotograph, a catalog of women and non-binary photographers around the world.
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That vocal support comes in the midst of a reckoning sweeping the photojournalism world, where some are demanding more diversity in addition to undoing the industry’s toxic culture.
“We all come to our position as storytellers from different backgrounds and our lived experiences,” says Schaff, who is also the vice president of the Women Photojournalists of Washington, a nonprofit organization. “We see things through different lenses; we all think one gesture or one emotion is more important than another. Having a diversity of perspective is important.”
Another of Schaff’s images, featured in the Times, shows Dr. Blasey Ford with her team of attorneys as they gather their materials. It evokes a Renaissance painting: a tableau of chaos, frozen in the moment. But even in the center of that activity, she looks composed—and that, what Schaff calls “the strength and poise of this woman who is not a politician, regardless of any politics,” is what the photographer tried to capture.
“She stood tall,” Schaff continues, “and I hope that comes across.”