This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series Persephone's Choice

Persephone, Goddess of Spring, Queen of the Underworld and Wife of Hades

Persephone, Queen of the Underworld and Wife of Hades

Persephone, in Greek mythology the Goddess of Spring, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Goddess of the Earth, Harvest, and Fertility, became also the wife of Hades and Queen of the Underworld. She was abducted by Hades, with the permission of Zeus, to be his wife. Demeter, in her anger and grief at the loss of her daughter, caused the Earth to be barren, the crops to fail, and winter to fall upon the earth.

That much most versions of the myth agree upon. Beyond that, however, are many plots and subplots, twists and turns, allowing for varying interpretations.

This seems like a good time to introduce Persephone in her role as Queen of the Underworld and wife of Hades. Although we are not yet officially in winter, here in the Northern Hemisphere we are in the dark, short days and long, cold nights, and rapidly approaching the Winter Solstice.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is nevertheless true that sometimes a few words can produce a thousand – well, maybe a few – images. Frequent readers here are aware of references to writer and fellow anthropologist, Jim Stallings, and his poem for “The Observer/The Observed.” Jim and I graduated from high school together, but were not aware of each other until a couple of years ago or that we both held a PhD in anthropology. We wouldn’t know each other walking down the street. But by virtue of the training in anthropology, we share a common vocabulary, even though our lives are otherwise quite different. We both are aware of the French structuralist Claude Levi-Strauss and the deconstruction of myth through binary oppositions. As a grad student, I wrote a paper, “A Structural Analysis of a White Mountain Apache Creation Myth.” While I did not use that much as an Ob/Gyn, that kind of knowledge sticks around and contributes to one’s view of the world and life. On September 15 of this year, Jim noted the approaching Autumn with “…it is that ancient mythic time for the daughter Persephone of the Earth Goddess Demeter to return to the Underworld and stay there until the return for Spring.”

As much as I hate to admit it, I was not familiar with Persephone. I had to go read. As I read more and more, however, her story resonated with me. Within a very short period of time I created three images from some of my favorite subjects, sunflowers and butterflies, that told a story of descent into darkness and emergence from it. Those images can be seen at the 2015 ANMPAS show opening on December 6 and running through December 28. I knew at that point that Persephone’s story was so rich and so complex that I wanted to tell her story through photography, with a real person (or persons), but it took me a bit to figure out how I wanted to do that.

In this image, you see Persephone with a pomegranate, held almost as a royal orb. The pomegranate plays a major supporting role in Persephone’s story, and is symbolic of many things. This will be explored in detail in future images posted here. By unplanned good luck, I had the opportunity to photograph many different pomegranates this fall, and they will be incorporated into some of the Persephone images. At the time I began photographing them, I wasn’t certain what I was going to do with them; I just knew I had to have them.

I began thinking about a photographic model for my Persephone. I had never hired a photographic model, although I had worked with a marvelous woman on someone else’s project. I kind of knew in my mind what I wanted, but I had no idea how to go about finding a photographer’s model that fit that description. Just like the pomegranates, the perfect model just sort of appeared at a time that was also perfect for a photographic session. I surprised myself by walking up and asking her if she had ever been a photographer’s model or would she consider being a photographer’s model. Also to my surprise, she said “yes.” She has the liquid eyes of the classic goddesses depicted in Renaissance paintings. She is athletic with well defined muscles. And she has attitude, an intangible so important in storytelling.

Many of you here may not be aware that I did a fair amount of maternity portraiture in the past. Even with those portraits, I liked to portray women as strong, and use red, not a typical choice for maternity portraits.

maternity portrait
Beautiful in Red

I had planned to photograph Kelly, “Persephone,” in black, but she requested some red as well. I had thought the black would be perfect for the time in the dark underworld. There are images in black, and you will see some of those. When I was doing maternity portraits, I always went with what the clients thought would be best for them. I now add, “trust your model” to things I have learned as a photographer.

This is an introduction to Persephone, and sets the stage for a coming series of images that explore that particular myth…and maybe more.

Series NavigationPomegranate Symbolism and Power >>

8 Replies to “Persephone”

  1. I think red is very appropriate for the Queen of the Underworld, and works well with the pomegranate.

    1. Hi, Tim. After all was said and done, I agree that red was a match for both. I’m really glad she wanted to do some red. There will be images with black, but red definitely was the color for Queen of the Underworld.

  2. Hi Susan,
    Very intriguing story (myth) and interesting use of the photography. I like how you use your experiences of the past and present to combine with your photography to make the viewer to want more. The model was interesting from the first time you showed her face (and those eyes) and I was wondering what you were going to do with the images. I once took a course in Mythology and find those stories very interesting. And your photography adds to this story.
    Tom Mayhew

    1. Hi, Tom. Your comment means so much to me on so many levels. I feel more invested in this project than in any other single thing I have ever done. In trying to figure out why, I think it is because the whole of my life experiences seem to be converging around this story in this project. Three months ago I would have laughed if someone told me I would spend my fall/winter totally immersed in a project of this sort. This seems to be the joy at this stage of life – and I mean for all who reach this stage: having time to put all that accumulated knowledge, whatever that is, into the perspective of one’s own life. I thank you for seeing that! I also thank you for taking the time to read and to post a comment. ~ Susan

  3. I enjoy and am impressed by your photography and commentary and look forward to seeing more. If you have not read it yet, I recommend, The Wisdom of the Myths, by Luc Ferry, a French philosopher (he was recently the French Minister of Education) and professor. The subtitle is, How Greek Mythology can change your life – he is a good teacher as well as a good scholar. Also, please say hello to your mother for me – she is by far the best teacher (other than experience and she helped me put my experience in much broader context than I would been able to otherwise) I ever encountered and I still think of her often.

    1. Bob, first, thank you for the comment on the piece. Then, thank you for the recommendation of The Wisdom of the Myths. Most of all, thank you so much for the remarks about my mom. She will be 96 at the end of this month, and is still going strong. I will happily convey your hello and remarks. Thank you so much!

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