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Yousuf Karsh
Claude Castonguay, 1936, Library and Archives Canada CC BY 2.0
Yousuf Karsh
Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh

Country: Canada
Birth: 1908 | Death: 2002

Yousuf Karsh is the most renowned portrait photographer of our time. He has perceptively photographed the statesmen, artists, and literary and scientific figures that have shaped our lives in the 20th century. Known for his ability to transform "the human face into legend," many of the portraits that he created have become virtually the image of the great man or woman they portray, whether Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein, Georgia O'Keefe or Helen Keller.

In other words, "to experience a Karsh photograph is to feel in the presence of history itself." His photographs are in major private and public collections throughout the world, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston holding the largest collection in the US.

Source: Weston Gallery


Yousuf Karsh,was an Armenian-Canadian photographer and one of the most famous and accomplished portrait photographers of all time. ousuf or Josuf (his given Armenian name was Hovsep)[citation needed] Karsh was born in Mardin, a city in the eastern Ottoman Empire (present Turkey). He grew up during the Armenian Genocide where he wrote, "I saw relatives massacred; my sister died of starvation as we were driven from village to village." At the age of 16, his parents sent Yousuf to live with his uncle George Nakash, a photographer in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. Karsh briefly attended school there and assisted in his uncle’s studio. Nakash saw great potential in his nephew and in 1928 arranged for Karsh to apprentice with portrait photographer John Garo in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. His brother, Malak Karsh, was also a photographer famous for the image of logs floating down the river on the Canadian one dollar bill. Karsh returned to Canada four years later, eager to make his mark.

In 1931 he started working with another photographer, John Powls, in his studio on the second floor of the Hardy Arcade at 130 Sparks Street in Ottawa, Ontario, close to Parliament Hill. When Powls retired in 1933, Karsh took over the studio. Karsh's first solo exhibition was in 1936 in the Drawing Room of the Château Laurier hotel. He moved his studio into the hotel in 1973, and it remained there until he retired in 1992. Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King discovered Karsh and arranged introductions with visiting dignitaries for portrait sittings. Karsh's work attracted the attention of varied celebrities, but his place in history was sealed on 30 December 1941 when he photographed Winston Churchill, after Churchill gave a speech to Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa. The image of Churchill brought Karsh international prominence, and is claimed to be the most reproduced photographic portrait in history. In 1967, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and in 1990 was promoted to Companion. Of the 100 most notable people of the century, named by the International Who's Who [2000], Karsh had photographed 51. Karsh was also the only Canadian to make the list.

In the late 1990s Karsh moved to Boston and on July 13, 2002, aged 93, he died at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital after complications following surgery. He was interred in Notre Dame Cemetery in Ottawa.

Works: Karsh was a master of studio lights. One of Karsh's distinctive practices was lighting the subject's hands separately. He photographed many of the great and celebrated personalities of his generation. Throughout most of his career he used the 8×10 bellows Calumet (1997.0319) camera, made circa 1940 in Chicago. Journalist George Perry wrote in the British paper The Sunday Times that "when the famous start thinking of immortality, they call for Karsh of Ottawa." Karsh had a gift for capturing the essence of his subject in the instant of his portrait. As Karsh wrote of his own work in Karsh Portfolio in 1967, "Within every man and woman a secret is hidden, and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can. The revelation, if it comes at all, will come in a small fraction of a second with an unconscious gesture, a gleam of the eye, a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world. In that fleeting interval of opportunity the photographer must act or lose his prize." Karsh said "My chief joy is to photograph the great in heart, in mind, and in spirit, whether they be famous or humble."

His work is in permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, New York's Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Bibliotheque nationale de France, the National Portrait Gallery in London, the National Portrait Gallery of Australia and many others. Library and Archives Canada holds his complete collection, including negatives, prints and documents. His photographic equipment was donated to the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa. Karsh published 15 books of his photographs, which include brief descriptions of the sessions, during which he would ask questions and talk with his subjects to relax them as he composed the portrait. Some famous subjects photographed by Karsh were Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, Muhammad Ali, Marian Anderson, W. H. Auden, Joan Baez, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Humphrey Bogart, Alexander Calder, Pablo Casals, Fidel Castro, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, Joan Crawford, Ruth Draper, Albert Einstein, Dwight Eisenhower, Princess Elizabeth, Robert Frost, Clark Gable, Indira Gandhi, Grey Owl, Ernest Hemingway, Audrey Hepburn, Pope John Paul II, Chuck Jones, Carl Jung, Helen Keller and Polly Thompson, Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Peter Lorre, Pandit Nehru, Georgia O'Keeffe, Laurence Olivier, General Pershing, Pablo Picasso, Pope Pius XII, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Paul Robeson, the rock band Rush, Albert Schweitzer, George Bernard Shaw, Jean Sibelius, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Andy Warhol, Frank Lloyd Wright, and, arguably his most famous portrait subject, Winston Churchill.

The story is often told of how Karsh created his famous portrait of Churchill during the early years of World War II. Churchill, the British prime minister, had just addressed the Canadian Parliament and Karsh was there to record one of the century's great leaders. "He was in no mood for portraiture and two minutes were all that he would allow me as he passed from the House of Commons chamber to an anteroom," Karsh wrote in Faces of Our Time. "Two niggardly minutes in which I must try to put on film a man who had already written or inspired a library of books, baffled all his biographers, filled the world with his fame, and me, on this occasion, with dread." Churchill marched into the room scowling, "regarding my camera as he might regard the German enemy." His expression suited Karsh perfectly, but the cigar stuck between his teeth seemed incompatible with such a solemn and formal occasion. "Instinctively, I removed the cigar. At this the Churchillian scowl deepened, the head was thrust forward belligerently, and the hand placed on the hip in an attitude of anger." The image captured Churchill and the Britain of the time perfectly — defiant and unconquerable. Churchill later said to him, "You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed." As such, Karsh titled the photograph, The Roaring Lion. However, Karsh's favourite photograph was the one taken immediately after this one where Churchill's mood had lightened considerably and is shown much in the same pose, but smiling.

Source: Wikipedia

 

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John Kenny
United Kingdom
In 2006 I developed my style of portrait photography within traditional communities, heavily influenced by the dramatic pictures of chiaroscuro artists. Chiaroscuro is an Italian term which literally means light-dark. Back then, at the very start of my Africa journey, I was buzzing with energy having met people of real magnetism just days into my trip. I was excited by extraordinary people and fascinating cultures and wondered how I could possibly communicate and express these feelings of excitement to friends and family back home.The solution, I imagined, would involve abstracting the remarkable from the not so remarkable: put simply, I felt that the vibrant and intense individuals that I had met in traditional communities would best show their magnetism on camera when they were removed from the (often) dull and dusty backgrounds of their immediate environment. After a few days I started to imagine each of these people in front of me emerging from the nothingness of darkness, with no distractions, hoping that this would provide a real feeling of proximity between the viewer and the person in the picture. I made a conscious decision at that time to leave a more documentary style of environmental portraiture to others. Practicing this new technique in remote African villages in 2006 I had nothing but sunshine and a hut available as a great ‘open studio': so I used these parameters and started experimenting (I've never really liked flash anyway). So it's simply the illumination of natural sunlight, and sun on dry earth, that reaches into the darkness of huts and lights up these remarkable people. Sun and dry earth are the only ingredients required for the lighting in my prints. And of course, you also need to find exceptional people!Falling in love with photography, and the origins of this series:I first fell in love with photography around 2003. I had not been fortunate enough to receive an art or photography education, but I knew back then, when I picked up my first SLR camera, that I had found the perfect way to express myself. Every time I had the camera in my hand I was looking to improve, needing to know what everything and anything looked like once it had been through the photographic process. It was a bit like a mad pursuit of alchemy - throwing everything into the mix to see if any magic came out of the other side. The process of photographic learning is very rarely a simple one, but to me it remains beautiful: discoveries, experimentation and seeing for the first time how a camera distorts and enhances the world.In Africa I seem to have made it my goal to travel through some of the remotest areas of the continent where the reaches of urbanisation and 21st century living are barely detectable. Looking back, this wasn’t my intention when I first arrived there in 2006, but somehow I keep returning to Africa to photograph because I'm fascinated to encounter societies that are able to survive in some of the most arid, isolated and difficult environments that people have settled in. If you haven’t visited these places then the reality of living is not nearly as romantic or idealised as one might imagine. Life takes place against a backdrop of very uncertain resources and enormous hardships, but traditions and hospitality towards outsiders remain intact.I specifically chose to photograph the individuals that you see in these galleries because I had a very real sense of wonder when I met them. Each one of these people had something that attracted me, sometimes a piercing intensity, or an uncommon beauty, that I felt compelled to try and capture. It’s true that I photograph for myself, first and foremost, but a close second is my desire to show others this magnetism that draws one into the eyes of these fascinating people.I have usually travelled alone or with a guide on these journeys, along the way walking and hopping onto overloaded vehicles of every kind to head to remote settlements. Often the destination is a transient, weekly market where hundreds of vibrant, colourful people assemble somewhat incongruously against a dull, dusty backdrop for a few hours. Later in the day they will all melt away with their animals and traded possessions, until the location is again a patch of bone-dry ground with almost nothing to separate it from the rest of the featureless land that typifies much of the African Sahel. It is fascinating to observe this process play out in almost exactly the same way across countless African countries, many of which are separated by hundreds or thousands of miles across this huge continent’s surface.My favourite tools are sharp prime lenses and cameras that let you capture the tiniest pieces of detail: whilst these details may be insignificant alone, when aggregated I feel they help paint the picture of the environment and how each person adapts to theirs.My favourite series of work remains the Northern Kenya series which involved 6 weeks of intense travelling with my guide, Mo, across remote areas without a vehicle and often without any semblance of an idea how to get to the next tiny settlement. The trip was full of unique encounters in locations that seemed to be famous, to me at least, as places where no transport seemed to be heading. On one particular occasion we came across a lone Moran (warrior) emerge into the dawn light, miles from anywhere. He seemed like a mirage: a vibrant vision in pink cloth and bright colourful jewellery, and more acutely so when set against the hazy yellow monotone of land that he emerged from. Even for Northern Kenya, I thought he seemed to be in a remote, featureless location: devoid of any water, and within an hour it would again be blistering hot. Despite these uncomfortable realities - which clearly weighed more heavily on my mind than his - the warrior seemed confident of his bearings and stopped for a moment to exchange pleasantries with Mo and I. A couple of minutes later, after sharing cigarette with my guide, he purposefully set off walking again, to God knows where. This place that looked barren and foreboding, to me at least, was clearly his home.
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Lisa Tichané is an advertising photographer whose work is entirely focused on babies and young kids. Based in France but travelling internationally for her clients, she is well known for her unique ability to connect with her tiny models and get irresistible images even from the most unpredictable, unwilling subjects. We asked her a dew questions about her life and work:
Exclusive interview with Monica Denevan Winner Of All About Photo Awards 2020
Monica Denevan is the Photographer of the Year, winner of All About Photo Awards 2020 - The Mind's Eye. My co-jurors Elizabeth Avedon, Laurent Baheux, Alex Cammarano, Julia Dean, Ann Jastrab, Juli Lowe and myself were impressed by her work Across the River, Burma that won first place out of thousands of submissions. She also won 1st place for AAP Magazine 4: Shapes. Her ongoing series, "Songs of the River: Portraits from Burma," began in 2000. Since then, she has returned to many of the same small villages in Burma/Myanmar, making intimate photographs of fishermen and their families in the spare and graphic setting of the Irrawaddy River. She travels with a medium format film camera, one lens, and bags of film, working with natural light and making composed images. Once home, she makes photographic prints in her traditional darkroom.