Editorial: Kuster’s photo is worth at least 1,000 words

Last modified: 7/16/2013 1:28:58 PM
Most of the photographs used by politicians to promote themselves are tiresome in the extreme: the dark suit, the carefully coiffed hair, the frozen smile. In that context, the picture used these days by 2nd District Rep. Annie Kuster on her official Facebook page is all the more startling, refreshing and cool.

Kuster’s photograph shows her with a swatch of silver-gray duct tape covering her mouth. On her left cheek, in black and red paint, is the symbol “NOH8.” With her right hand, she has two fingers (Peace? Victory?) pointed at her temple.

What in the world?

The picture was part of a recent congressional photo shoot conducted by the NOH8 (No Hate) Campaign. The group, which promotes marriage equality, created the photo project as a silent protest in response to the passage of Proposition 8, the measure banning same-sex marriage in California and recently overturned by the Supreme Court. The photos feature subjects all with duct tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by the California law and others like it.

The recent congressional photos – taken shortly before the Supreme Court ruling – were just the latest pictures in a multi-year project that includes nearly 30,000 faces. And it’s not over yet: Later this summer, photographers will be making portraits in Holland, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Denmark.

In Washington, 98 members of Congress have participated, in three separate photo sessions, most recently the 67 portraits made in June, including Kuster’s. The group includes two U.S. senators (Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut) and a single Republican: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. It includes the Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

As a collection, the photos of the congressional representatives are fascinating to look at. (You can find them at noh8campaign.com.) Rep. Paul Grijalva of Arizona poses with a clenched fist. Rep. Janice Hahn of California uses her fingers to form a heart. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois shows off a muscle. Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa sports “NOH8” stickers on two bright, red boxing gloves.

The legislators were allowed to include a quote about their feelings about the issue. Kuster’s was straightforward. She said, in part, “Every American deserves to be treated equally under the law – period. That is fundamental to who we are as a country, and I was proud to join more than 60 members of Congress in supporting the NOH8 campaign and the cause of equality for all Americans.”

Publicly supporting gay rights is becoming less and less dangerous for American politicians with each passing week. But for members of Congress to be photographed looking weird or provocative – really, anything other than safe, polished and boring – remains a risk.

Kuster lent her face to an interesting campaign and then promoted it from her own Facebook page. A breath of fresh air indeed.

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