Do you know your apples from your elderberries?

Photographer and Scenario Host Jessica McDermott is setting off on a journey through symbols in art and starting with the (humble) apple.

Jessica McDermott Apple symbol.jpg

Let’s start at the beginning. A is for apple. For what is essentially lunchbox fodder, the apple has been present at many an origin story and has caused all sorts of mischief in its wake. In the bible, Eve famously gave in to temptation and, did what Adam would have been too timid to do, plucked an apple from the Tree of Knowledge after a tip-off from a certain tricksy serpent. Biting into the forbidden fruit and ingesting knowledge initiated the Fall of Man and the pair’s eviction from The Garden of Eden. As a well known story, it is easy to read the apple as symbol of temptation or more specifically of ‘Original Sin’. Interestingly though, in images of the Virgin Mary holding an apple or when it is in the hands of Jesus as a child, the meaning is reversed and it instead refers to redemption and salvation.

Let’s start at the beginning. A is for apple.

In Greek mythology, another famous apple (meant for the fairest of all) inadvertently kicked off a 10-year war. It began with a contest between deities: Aphrodite (Goddess of Love), Hera (Queen of the Gods), and Athena (Goddess of Wisdom and War). To put these Goddesses’ specific strengths and attributes into these thrifty parentheses is doing them a bit of a disservice, however for all their omnipotent prowess, they were fighting it out in an impromptu beauty contest. In the end, the decision over who was the fairest fell to Paris, a mere mortal, who favoured Aphrodite and awarded her the golden apple. Though it should be noted that they had all tried to sway him with bribery and she had happened to make him the most tantalising offer. Aphrodite promised to make Helen, the most beautiful non-deity in the world, fall in love with him. Helen’s beauty was already infamous, but after leaving her husband King Menelaus and running off with Paris, she became henceforth known as Helen whose face launched a thousand ships. You see, the Greeks had sworn an oath to stand with Menelaus against anyone would dare to try and take Helen away from him. And so that was what they did. The Greeks ended up fighting against the Trojans for ten whole years, Odysseus with his flawed route home was gone for twenty - and so that golden apple symbolises a whole lot of chaos.

In my work, I am also very interested in modern takes on symbols. In the 21st century, ‘Apple’ is synonymous with the latest phones and tablets, whereas the fruit itself is the go to gift from the teacher’s pet and has been keeping the doctor away since the 1860s, or at least that is when the phrase was coined. Do apples have any unique significance for you? Let us know on Instagram…

Words and images by Jessica McDermott.

You can find Jessica McDermott on Twitter and Instagram @jessmcfilm.

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Jessica McDermott