Non-Fiction Book Reviews

Book Review: Zaida Ben-Yusuf

By Sandy Amazeen Jun 10, 2008, 6:14 GMT

Book Review: Zaida Ben-Yusuf

In the early twentieth century Zaida Ben-Yusuf (1869–1933) was one of the busiest photographers in New York City, maintaining a fashionable studio on Fifth Avenue, exhibiting her distinctly modern portraits across America, Europe and Russia, and publishing work in many magazines. Her self-portraits also challenged traditional perceptions of female identity. This striking book celebrates Ben-Yusuf ’s achievement, showcasing a significant selection of her elegant and compelling portraits featuring prominent artistic ...more

At the turn of the twentieth century, women frequently encountered institutional, economic and personal obstacles as they pursued a career beyond that of wife and mother. Photographers of the era were struggling to have their work recognized as a legitimate art form. During this tumultuous time period Zaida Ben-Yusuf opened her photography studio on New Yorks Fifth Avenue and created a stunning body of work including a number of self-portraits. Although highly regarded at the time, Ben-Yusufs penetrating, often haunting photos eventually fell into obscurity until its rediscovery by Frank Goodyear in the 1970s.

This volume features over a hundred images by this gifted artist who traveled extensively and produced images like The Odor of Pomegranates, a striking photo of an unidentified young woman that remains as haunting now as it was in 1899. Ben-Yusuf cultivated friendships with and photographed a number of famous authors, painters and actresses including Edith Wharton, Anthony Hope Hawkins, Elbert Hubbard and Grover Cleveland. Insightful observations about the subject of each portrait add a sense of time and depth to each piece making this anthology much more then a collection of old photos, it is a step back in time.

This beautiful compilation reintroduces a gifted portraitist who enjoyed experimenting, pushing the envelope of a medium that was still in its infancy and is a gem to be treasured.

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