The Odor of Pomegranates

The Odor of Pomegranates

Dating from 1899, this symbolic portrait by New York portrait photographer Zaida Ben-Yusuf (1869-1933) appeared in many exhibitions featuring pictorial photography at the beginning of the 20th century. An excerpt from the volume: Zaida Ben-Yusuf: New York Portrait Photographer by Frank H. Goodyear III published in 2008 comments on this photograph:

In The Odor of Pomegranates, Ben-Yusuf herself experiments with creating a photographic portrait that is as much about Classical mythology as it is about modern life. The pomegranate that the woman holds before her provides a key to unlocking the work’s larger symbolism. An odorless fruit, the pomegranate has long been a popular subject for artists and poets, many of whom have seen it as a symbol of the Resurrection. In Greek mythology, it figures prominently in the story of Persephone, the beautiful daughter of Zeus and Demeter, whose eating of a pomegranate given to her by Hades bound her for part of the year in the underworld over which he reigned. (1.)

Original copy for this entry posted to Facebook on October 16, 2012:

A most intriguing example of symbolic portraiture done in the last year of the 19th century was this profile of a model holding up and examining a pomegranate, an odorless fruit. The title of the work-a conundrum in and of itself since they have no smell-may be considered one key to the idea of implied action within it: risk taking by itself can yield the endless possibilities of reward. At the time this photograph was taken, being a woman with a viable occupation such as a commercial portrait photographer was not common or for the faint of heart. In my opinion and on this level, the work may be inferred a self-portrait of Zaida Ben-Yúsuf, with the most daring risk taken and achieved being a visual one-the model’s choice of dress seamlessly blending within the folded drapery backdrop being the mysterious yet magical equivalent of potential itself.


1. excerpt: The Odor of Pomegranates: from: Zaida Ben-Yusuf: New York Portrait Photographer: by Frank H. Goodyear III, with contributions by Elizabeth O. Wiley and Jobyl A. Boone: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution: 2008: Merrell Publishers Limited: London| New York: pp. 64-65

The Odor of Pomegranates

Image Dimensions19.5 x 10.9 cm September

Support Dimensionsdetail: 25.1 x 17.1 cm