Images of Abundance: Photography and Involuntary Memory

I was in London’s Chinatown the other day and took a number of photographs. One of the images featured the silhouette of a leafy tree, flanked by rows of red and yellow suspended paper lanterns.

I made a connection to a photograph I’d taken when I was last in Israel of multi-rowed ruby display of pomegranates at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, almost two years ago to the day. The display was actually part of a juice stall rather than an ode to the Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashana – which tends to occur in September, depending on its yearly date in the lunar calendar. This year Rosh Hashana took place early in September and perhaps was still in my consciousness:

Pomegranates are one of the symbolic foods eaten at the ritualistic new year meal. The main reason is a belief that the seeds of the fruit correspond to the number of blessings or commandments –mizvot – which amount to 613. But to me they are yet another representation of abundance that is part of the ritual meal. The most typically iconic food associated with Rosh Hashana are apples dipped in honey, and other sweet fruits such as figs and dates. In my family, Persian Jews would typically also have a savoury dish – a tureen of earthy kidney beans in a rich sauce – to illustrate a fertility blessing to go forth and multiply … I remember my father reciting a blessing ending in the Hebrew words ken yirbu, which as children we would repeat emphasising and elongating the yirbooo because it sounded funny to us.

Following on from the association of the above pomegranate image to my Chinatown photograph, I recalled an old family photograph from the early 1970s which was taken in my maternal grandparents’ back garden in Tel Aviv. This memento unites three elements from the first two images – pomegranates, trees and suspended paper objects.

In this photograph which I believe was taken by my Uncle David, a photographer, my mother – the redhead in the green halter top and matching earrings is talking to her sister. I am the tanned teen in the white top looking to the side, and my cousin Dorit is next to me. We are both eating apples. I imagine this was post-siesta time, a sacred period between 2-4 PM when we emerged from the enforced rest to have Turkish coffee and fruit. There are numerous tied brown paper bags above our heads – they were there to protect the pomegranates on my grandfather (Saba) Mordechai’s tree. My Saba was an unusual character and had knowledge of folk remedies. I once had a terrible case of food poisoning which he cured by boiling the bitter, leathery pomegranate skins in water. and administering the resulting yellow medication. I was sceptical but it worked!

A couple more images of abundance. Here’s a colourful magenta and red display, taken earlier this month in Kew Gardens:

And one of my paintings, a still life with flowers, persimmon and pomegranate:

2 thoughts on “Images of Abundance: Photography and Involuntary Memory”

  1. I love this blog post, both the story and the photos and it’s theme of abundance and memory. I love the way the brilliant colours weave through the narrative and the intriguing notion of fruitfulness in all its forms. The family photo where no-one is actually looking at the photographer, although you appear to be focusing hard on something outside of the frame, adds to the sense of remembering. The sisters deep in conversation, the children eating fruit and it looks like a male arm and knee, perhaps a father, there but not the focus of the photograph. And your painting, a still life, with quick broad brushstrokes capturing another brief moment of beauty bringing it all together.
    Thank you for sharing.


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