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Yousuf Karsh | Perhaps the most iconic portrait photographer of all time?

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.

Yousuf Karsh - December 1968

Yousuf Karsh – December 1968

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


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. 

Georgia O'Keeffe by Yousuf Karsh, 1956

Georgia O’Keeffe, 1956

Jean-Louis Barrault by Yousuf Karsh, 1949

Jean-Louis Barrault, 1949

Gian Carlo Menotti by Yousuf Karsh, 1956

Gian Carlo Menotti, 1956

Tennessee Williams by Yousuf Karsh, 1956

Tennessee Williams, 1956

Paul Dudley White by Yousuf Karsh, 1957

Paul Dudley White, 1957

Bruno Walter by Yousuf Karsh, 1956

Bruno Walter, 1956

Ralph Vaughan Williams by Yousuf Karsh, 1949

Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1949

Francis Henry Taylor by Yousuf Karsh, 1957

Francis Henry Taylor, 1957

John Ernst Steinbeck by Yousuf Karsh, 1954

John Ernst Steinbeck, 1954

George Bernard Shaw by Yousuf Karsh, 1943

George Bernard Shaw, 1943

Albert Schweitzer by Yousuf Karsh, 1954

Albert Schweitzer, 1954

Norman Rockwell by Yousuf Karsh, 1958

Norman Rockwell, 1958

Yukio Ozaki by Yousuf Karsh, 1950

Yukio Ozaki, 1950

Edward R. Murrow by Yousuf Karsh, 1956

Edward R. Murrow, 1956

William Somerset Maugham by Yousuf Karsh, 1950

William Somerset Maugham, 1950

Marcel Marceau by Yousuf Karsh, 1956

Marcel Marceau, 1956

Ernest Hemingway by Yousuf Karsh, 1957

Ernest Hemingway, 1957

Robert Frost by Yousuf Karsh, 1958

Robert Frost, 1958

Dame Margot Fonteyn De Arias by Yousuf Karsh, 1957

Dame Margot Fonteyn De Arias, 1957

Dame Edith Evans by Yousuf Karsh, 1954

Dame Edith Evans, 1954

George Enesco by Yousuf Karsh, 1954

George Enesco, 1954

Albert Einstein by Yousuf Karsh, 1948

Albert Einstein, 1948

Walt Disney by Yousuf Karsh, 1956

Walt Disney, 1956

Christian Dior by Yousuf Karsh, 1954

Christian Dior,  1954

Alfred Cortot by Yousuf Karsh, 1954

Alfred Cortot, 1954

Catherine Cornell by Yousuf Karsh, 1947

Catherine Cornell,  1947

Jean Cocteau by Yousuf Karsh, 1949

Jean Cocteau, 1949

Paul Claudel by Yousuf Karsh, 1954

Paul Claudel, 1954

Winston Churchill by Yousuf Karsh, 1941

Winston Churchill, 1941

Vannevar Bush by Yousuf Karsh, 1950

Vannevar Bush, 1950

Charles Braque by Yousuf Karsh, 1949

Charles Braque 1949

Alfred Blalock by Yousuf Karsh

Alfred Blalock, 1950

All images © The Estate of Yousuf Karsh. All Rights Reserved.

Give us your feedback!

 Thanks for reading, we would love to hear which one of these portraits were your favourite!

About the Author:

Shawn Marran
I am Danie Bester's Personal Assistant and Geek. I live in Centurion and joined the DPC Team as a Web Administrator. I manage the DPC site as well as our Student Network Photo Critic. Current long term goals involve being trained in web design. I frequently get compared to an Owl because of my love for the night. I enjoy Night-time photography as well as urban landscape, architectural and abstract photography.


  1. Hendrina 2016/09/14 at 07:51

    My favourite is Christian Dior.

  2. Leon Pelser 2016/09/05 at 21:30

    Tx Shawn…it’s Einstein for me!

  3. Kevin Richards 2016/09/01 at 20:56

    After a foggy year, seeing these and being able to take a breath again, has me inspired. For me, Walter and Cortot.

  4. Sascha 2016/08/31 at 21:03

    Thank you Shawn he truly did get great photos of great people. I’m feeling inspired.

  5. Jenna Bester 2016/08/31 at 17:02

    My favourites are Jean Cocteau and Ernest Hemingway

  6. Danie Bester
    Danie Bester 2016/08/31 at 16:55

    Wow. Thanks for sharing Shawn. I love them all and really difficult to choose. Perhaps the portrait of Paul Claudel, or maybe Jean Cocteau, or Robert Frost.

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