- Zaida Ben-Yusuf (1869-1933) was a leader in the art of photographic portraiture in turn-of-the-century New York. She operated – for ten years beginning in 1897 – arguably the most fashionable portrait studio on Fifth Avenue, while at the same time contributing work to numerous publications and the period’s most important photography exhibitions. As a testament to her renown, she served as a spokesperson for the Eastman Kodak Company and was regularly profiled in newspapers and magazines. Yet the memory of her achievement as a photographer has largely vanished.
Born in London, Ben-Yusuf settled in New York in 1895. There she took up photography, first as a hobby and then two years later as a profession. Rather than falling back on traditional portrait conventions – painted backdrops and contrived poses – she sought inspiration from the leading artists and
- pictorial photographers of the period. 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. Seen together, these individuals represent a remarkable cross-section of a place that was rapidly becoming America’s first modern city. Yet, like many professional women, she encountered personal and economic difficulties that ultimately compelled her to abandon photography. Although she later pursued with equal ambition a career in the fashion trade, it is her photographic work – and the men and women she portrayed – that we aim to recover in this exhibition.