In Photos: Remembering Portrait Photographer Zaida Ben-Yusuf

Portrait of Sadakichi Hartmann by Zaida Ben-Yusuf, 1899
November 21, 2012 /Photography News/ Born 143 years ago today, on 21 November 1869, Zaida Ben-Yusuf was a leader in the art of photographic portraiture in turn of the 19th–20th century. 

Self-portrait of Zaida Ben-Yusuf accompanying her article "The New Photography — What it has done and is doing for Modern Portraiture," published in the "Metropolitan Magazine", Vol. XIV, no. III (Sept, 1901), p. 391.
Zaida Ben-Yusuf was born in London to a German mother and an Algerian father, but became a naturalised American citizen later in life. She operated – for ten years beginning in 1897 – arguably the most fashionable portrait studio on Fifth Avenue, New York, while at the same time contributing work to numerous publications and the period’s most important photography exhibitions. 

The Odor of Pomegranates (platinum print) by Zaida Ben-Yusuf, 1899
Despite her young age and her recent arrival in America, she attracted to her studio many of the era’s most prominent artistic, literary, theatrical, and political figures. In 1901 the Ladies Home Journal featured her in a group of six photographers that it dubbed, "The Foremost Women Photographers in America." 

Zaida Ben-Yusuf died on 27 September 1933 in Brooklyn.

American writer William Dean Howells (1837-1920), cca. 1900
Zaida Ben-Yusuf's work was the subject of an exhibition, Zaida Ben-Yusuf: New York Portrait Photographer at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, which ran from 11 April through 1 September 2008. The curator, Frank H. Goodyear III, first learned about Ben-Yusuf when he discovered two of her photographs in 2003, and set forth to discover more about a photographer who had almost completely been forgotten. Goodyear suggested that gender discrimination might have led to Zaida Ben-Yusuf being forgotten, despite her significant contributions towards developing photography as a medium of artistic expression. His exhibition at the Smithsonian re-established Zaida Ben-Yusuf as a key figure in the early development of fine art photography.

Japanese Buddhist monk Ekai Kawaguchi (1866–1945). Illustration in "Metropolitan Magazine", Vol. LXVII, no. 3 (Jan. 1904), p. 384, accompanying Kawaguchi's article "The Latest News from Lhasa: A Narrative of Personal Adventure in Tibet," from a photograph by Zaida Ben-Yusuf, 1904

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