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Photographing the Senate

The Senate has always inspired the imagination of artists, engravers, and political cartoonists. The advent of photography in the mid-19th century changed the way the Senate and its members could be portrayed to the American people. No longer reliant on the artist’s vision, or subject to broad artistic license, early photographers recorded more accurate images of the Capitol and the senators who worked there. The long exposure time required to affix an image to a photographic plate dictated the nature and subject of early Senate photography–mainly still portraits and exterior views of the Capitol–but advances in photographic technology soon allowed photographers to capture less formal pictures of senators in action as they conducted the business of the institution or enjoyed more relaxing moments. Before long, cameras became commonplace in committee hearings and at press conferences. Today, senators are always expected to be ready for the camera.