Yousuf Karsh has been touted by many as perhaps the best portrait photographer of all time. He was indeed incredibly talented at capturing authentic expressions and almost cinematic poses in his portraits. Karsh’s iconic portraits of some of the greatest personalities, who sat before his camera are perhaps the most definitive images that we collectively remember. Over the course of his career, he had an astonishing 15, 312 sittings and produced well over 150, 000 negatives which definitely earned him his place in history. He left us with a historic collection of portraits from the men and women who shaped the twentieth century.
Born in 1908 on the 23rd of December, of Armenian parents, he arrived in Canada from Syria in 1925. He spent his early years in Mardin, Turkey, during the Armenian Genocide. After much persecution and hardships, his Father managed to secure him passage to his Uncle Nakash in Canada.
On a thundering New Year’s Eve of 1925 after a journey of twenty-nine days, he finally arrived at Halifax onboard a liner, equipped only with his good manners, almost no English and little French. There, Karsh briefly attended school while also helping out in his Uncle’s photography studio in Quebec. He won his first photography competition after one of his friends at school secretly sent in one of his photographs. His Uncle saw great potential in him and thus in 1928, he arranged for Karsh to apprentice with portrait photographer John Garo who lived in Boston, Massachusetts.
In 1931, he returned to Canada and opened a modest studio, surviving on only his weekly secretary’s salary. He was then invited to join the Ottawa Little Theatre, where he learned and studied artificial lighting while photographing the actors on stage. During this time, he photographed the likes of Lord Duncannon, son of Governor General Lord Bessborough, as well as making his first foray into photojournalism at an event with Franklin D Roosevelt, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, and many other notable figures in attendance. From then on, he became good friends with Prime Minister King which also allowed him the opportunity to photograph the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill at an event in Ottawa, December 1941. The world’s reaction to his portrayal of Winston Churchill is what changed his life forever. To learn more about him and view more of his work, you can go visit his website www.karsh.org.
32 Iconic Karsh Portraits
We would like to share a selection of some of our favourite portraits by one of the greatest master photographers of all time.
All images © The Estate of Yousuf Karsh. All Rights Reserved.
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