Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Philip Bermingham during the photo shoot that bore the image that was re-created for a new commemorative stamp. Photo by Scarlett Anne Bermingham

When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg commissioned her Washington neighbor to take her portrait in 2017, it was under the condition that he wouldn’t release it during her lifetime.

Two years after her death in 2020, the photographer, Philip Bermingham, who lives part time in Biddeford Pool, published it as part of a coffee table book of portraits he’s taken, including of Prince Charles and Richard Nixon, among many other famous faces. Now, a painting based on the photo is featured on a commemorative stamp that will be unveiled officially in a ceremony Monday at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

The U.S. Postal Service will issue 32 million Ginsburg Forever Stamps for 66 cents apiece to honor her “groundbreaking contributions to justice, gender equality, and the rule of law,” the agency said. She is the 15th Supreme Court justice to be featured on a stamp.

The U.S. Postal Service will officially unveil the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Forever Stamp on Monday. Photo courtesy of U.S. Postal Service

Bermingham, who owns two homes in Biddeford Pool and frequently visits Maine, said his photo of Ginsburg stands out among the thousands he’s taken in his career because of the personal relationship he had with her.

“We were neighbors, you know. It was just special,” he said in a phone interview last week.

Bermingham was born in England and worked as a police officer in Liverpool before moving to Bermuda in 1972 to work as a senior crime officer for the police force there. Through that job, he began practicing forensic photography, as well as portraiture.


“I was there for many different events, so I got to take photographs of the president of Yugoslavia when he visited, and then when Queen Elizabeth visited, I got to spend the whole time following her around. I thought it was great,” said Bermingham. “I started to really like taking portraits because I like working with people. Everyone has a different story, and as a portrait photographer, I get to be a storyteller.”

Bermingham visited Maine for the first time in 1985 to take a class taught by pioneering portrait photographer Arnold Newman. “After a couple of days, we were butting heads, and he told me to leave the class. So I said, ‘OK, that’s fine because I don’t think you did a very good job of teaching it,’ ” Bermingham said, laughing.

Shortly after their dispute, the two met at a restaurant to talk and hit it off. They quickly became good friends, and Newman acted as a mentor for him, further immersing Bermingham in the world of photography.

In 1978, Bermingham moved to Washington, where he ended up living three doors down from Ginsburg in the Watergate housing complex.

They shared a passion for opera, and Ginsburg admired Bermingham’s photography, enough so that she eventually commissioned him for a portrait.

“During the shoot, she was looking straight on, and I’m tall, so I towered over her. I realized that was not going to work; it just wasn’t right. So, I got on the floor,” he said. “It was like the image just took on a power. You’re almost looking into her soul; she embraces you. It was the ultimate moment for the whole session.”


The portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg used to create the painting on the stamp. Photo by Philip Bermingham

Bermingham agreed not to publish the photo during her lifetime, but when he released his book “Portraiture: Philip Bermingham, On The Job” last year, he used the image on the back cover. Now, he’s designed a new book sleeve that features the portrait and the stamp on the front cover.

Once it was out in the world, Bermingham’s portrait of Ginsburg attracted attention, including from Ethel Kessler, an art director for the Postal Service.

“I researched 100s of photos trying to find one that would portray her justly, and when I came across the photo of her by Philip Bermingham – I knew instantly, ‘This is THE ONE!’ ” Kessler wrote in an emailed response to questions about the process. “After selecting the photo, we believed that a painted portrait based on the photo would not only add gravitas to the stamp, but also a sense of eternity. There was only one artist who I had in mind to commission for such a task – Michael Deas. With his experience and expertise – I knew there could be none other.”

Deas, a painter and illustrator who has now painted 25 stamps for the Postal Service, was thrilled.

“(Ginsburg) was one of the most influential figures of the Supreme Court, so it was a great honor and a great responsibility,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

Deas completed the portrait in eight weeks. He changed the image’s background to blue to reflect Ginsburg’s famously “stark blue eyes.” He also removed her necklace and replaced it with her classic “dissent collar.”

“Ginsburg is wearing perhaps the most famous of her many collars, a beaded collar from South Africa, that is visible in many official portraits and paintings of the justice and serves as an instantly recognizable secondary signifier of her and her views,” Daniel Piazza, chief curator of philately at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, said in an email.

In describing the stamp, Kessler said that “ultimately, it was the details that led to its aura of grandeur and historical significance. Resilient yet sublime. Determined but accessible. It is truly … justice.”

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