When history of Canada is written, Kim Campbell will be remembered for countless glass ceilings she broke. She was the first female student president at both her highschool and university. She was Canada’s first female Minister of Justice, Attorney General and later first female Minister of Defense. When she became Canada’s Prime Minister, she was not only her first female PM, but also the first baby boomer to hold that office, and the first PM to have been born in British Columbia.
For all these accomplishments, Kim Campbell was better known in Canada for a 1990 Barbara Woodley portrait in which she stood bare-shouldered behind her justice minister robes. In the late 1980s, Barbara Woodley drove across Canada in a van, sleeping inside the vehicle, to take 66 portraits of famous and powerful Canadian women. On the day she came to take Campbell’s photograph, Campbell had just picked up her justice minister robes. Woodley proposed taking her picture with her cello but Campbell said that another photographer had just taken her portrait in that style and accordingly suggested that she put on her new robes.
Woodley recommended that Campbell hold the robes in front of her. “We both realized that holding the robes while I was fully dressed would look silly, but we had no idea at the time that her photo of me, bare-shouldered and holding the robes on a hanger would become so notorious,” Campbell recalled. The notoriety only began when the National Arts Centre launched an exhibit on the Canadian politicians and included the portrait in November 1992.
At the launch of the exhibition, Campbell bumped into former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. “I had just picked up my QC robes [then]” she said. “Ah, and what were you doing before you picked them up?” responded Trudeau. On its review of the exhibition, the Ottawa Citizen ran the photo on its front page with the caption: “Doing justice to art.” Inside the parliament, MPs likened Campbell’s photos to those of Madonna, which had recently came out in a tome called Sex. The British tabloids also gleefully cover the episode; in Italy, due to a translation error, it was reported that Campbell had posed with “nude men” instead of “bare shoulders.”
For all the clamor surrounding it, Campbell’s premiership was short and tumultuous. It lasted for 132 days — the third shortest in Canadian history. She also became only the third PM — and first since Second World War — to be unseated at the same time that his or her party lost an election. What a tragic end for such a promising career.
In 1993, the Woodley photograph sold for $12,500 at an auction. Woodley remembers the entire episode here.