Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery (22 cents)

Zaida Ben-Yusuf operated a photographic studio in New York City in the very early days of the 20th century and specialized in portraits of the rich and famous. Edward Steichen took his portrait photographs a few decades later. There are two adjoining exhibits at the Portrait Gallery showing both of their work. It is interesting to see them together, because (to me) they are quite similar, except that photographic techniques improved greatly in the years following Ben-Yusuf’s work.

There is another difference as well. The Steichen portraits are of people that I have heard of (and most of whom I can identify from the pictures themselves). Not so the Ben-Yusuf portraits, although from the descriptions of the subjects, I would guess that they were as prominent in their time as the Steichen subjects were subsequently.

Ekai Kawaguchi (Japanese Buddhist scholar), Anne Douglas Sedgewick (author), Alberto Santos-Dumont (pioneer aviator), Mary French Sheldon (African explorer), Anthony Hope Hawkins (author), Paul-Cesar Haupe (portraitist), Frances Marion Crawford (author), Robert Herrick (author), James Burton Pond (impressario), George Lorimer (publisher), Florence Kahn (actress), Elsie de Wolfe (actress), Minnie Madden Fiske (actress), Augustin Daly (producer), Elsie Leslie (actress), John Fox, Jr. (author), Cleveland Moffett (journalist), Ernest Thompson Seaton (author), John White Alexander (painter), James Carroll Beckwith (painter), Everett Sloan (artist), Esther Chamberlain (author) and Sadakichi Hartmann (critic). To be sure there were others: Edith Wharton, Grover Cleveland, William Dean Howells, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Nast, to name some. But most are unknowns – their time, I guess, has really passed.

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