When Sebastian Kim prepared to photograph Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the 2015 TIME 100, he knew he wanted to capture an expression. He had limited time—she was characteristically busy—and he recalls asking her to try on the pair of gloves she had brought, and pose with her hand this way or that. She stayed mostly quiet during the photo shoot, as was her style, and Kim did as well. Then—snap—he got it: the image of the legendary justice with her hand to her mouth, a knowing look on her face.
“That was the image that I really loved of her,” Kim recalls. “With that smile, the twinkle in her eye and the little eyebrow lift.”
Kim’s portrait of the pioneering Supreme Court Justice, who died on Sept. 18 at age 87 from complications related to metastatic pancreatic cancer, is featured on the cover of the latest issue of TIME, which commemorates her life and legacy. Since news of her death first broke, the portrait has been widely shared across social media, as people mourn the loss of the diminutive giant who tirelessly fought for gender equality.
Kim, 46, says his Ginsburg image has consistently garnered the largest positive response of any portrait he has taken, and he feels “extremely honored” that the photo has resonated the way it has. At the time it was taken, he admits he had no idea what it would become.
“For me, it was a gift that she kind of gave at that particular moment,” he says, sharing that shoots like Ginsburg’s are why he “cherishes portrait sitting.” The ability to capture her personality, “to actually transcend time and make an impact,” has “created a very deep and personal impact on how I see my craft.”
Another image of Ginsburg from that same photo shoot served as one of the covers for the 2015 TIME 100 issue. This past March, Ginsburg was also featured on the 1996 cover for TIME’s 100 Women of the Year series, which spotlights influential women from each year of the past century.
Kim says one of his favorite things about the portrait featured on the new TIME cover is its optimism and power. “You just have to look at what she’s left behind. And I think this image captures it,” he says. It conveys that “she knows she has left a legacy.”
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Write to Madeleine Carlisle at firstname.lastname@example.org