Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh Photo

Yousuf Karsh, one of the prominent Armenian-Canadian photographers was famously known for his portrait photography. He was born in Mardin, a city in the eastern part of Ottoman Empire (Turkey). He grew up in the era of the Armenian Genocide and when he was 16; his parents propelled him to start living along with his uncle Georg Nakash, also a photographer in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. Karsh attended school for a short time and remained busy in supporting his uncle with the studio work. Nakash saw the capacity of his nephew in the field and in 1928 arranged for him an internship under a great portrait living in Boston, named John Garo.

In 1931, in order to make his name, Yousuf Karsh came back to Canada and started working with John Powl, in his studio. He eventually took over the studio when Powl retired few years later. In 1936, he had his debut exhibition in Château Laurier hotel’s Drawing Room. Later he shifted his studio to this hotel and lived and worked there till 1992.

Karsh was discovered by the Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King and he introduced Karsh to the visiting notables for portrait sittings. His work started gathering attention yet the turning point came when he clicked on Winston Churchill, in 1941 as Churchill delivered an oration to the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa. This remained the highly reproduced portrait in the history.

He was one of the people making the list for the hundred most prominent people of the century, titled by the International Who’s Who (2000) with he himself photographing 51 people mentioned on the list. Karsh had exceptional skills with the studio lights. His unique work was his ability of illuminating the subject’s hands separately. Most of his photographs were taken on 8×10 bellows Calumet camera. He clicked photos of various distinguished celebrities of his times. He was mentioned in The Sunday Times in following words “when the famous start thinking of immortality, they call for Karsh of Ottawa”.

Karsh published 15 books in which he has added his conversation to his subject, to ease them as he made the portraits. He had the privilege to photograph some esteemed figures of the time including Muhammad Ali, W. H. Auden, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Alexander Calder, Pablo Casals, Joan Crawford, Ruth Draper, Albert Einstein, Princess Elizabeth, , Indira Gandhi, Grey Owl, Ernest Hemingway, Audrey Hepburn, Pope John Paul II, Carl Jung, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Karsh believed in his capability of revealing the spirit of his subject in his portrait and mentioned it in his portfolio, in 1967. The great work of Yousuf Karsh is exhibited at numerous esteemed institutes and galleries as a permanent collection. Few examples are New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bibliotheque nationale de France, George Eastman House International Museum, National Gallery of Canada, and others. Different libraries and various records in Canada keep up the entire collection, together with the negatives and the documents. Karsh’s photographic tools were given to the Canada Technology and Science Museum in Ottawa.

By the end of 1990, Yousuf Karsh relocated to Boston and on 13th July, 2002, he died while admitted to the Women’s Hospital in Boston, at the age of 93. He was interred in Notre Dame Cemetery in Ottawa.

Photos of Yousuf Karsh