Yousuf Karsh, Canadian Photographer

I recently did a post in which Doug of WeggieBoy reminded me of Yousuf Karsh, a famous Canadian photographer. So I would like to introduce you to him in today’s post.

Yousuf Karsh
Yousuf Karsh – Self Portret
Date 1938 / Ottawa, Ontario
Source This image is available from Library and Archives Canada under the reproduction reference number PA-212511.

Yousuf Karsh was born on December 23, 1908, in Mardin, a city in the eastern Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey). His childhood wasn’t to be envied in the least. He grew up during the Armenian Genocide. He is quoted as saying, “I saw relatives massacred; my sister died of starvation as we were driven from village to village.” [Lucas, Dean (2007). “Famous Pictures Magazine – Churchill’s Portrait”. Famous Pictures Magazine.]

Winston Churchill 1941 photo by Yousuf Karsh
Winston Churchill 1941 photo by Yousuf Karsh

When he reached the age of 16, his parents sent Yousuf to live with his uncle George Nakash, a photographer in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. Karsh would assist 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.

Four years later, he returned to Canada. In 1931 he started working with photographer, John Powls, in his studio at 130 Sparks Street in Ottawa, Ontario. When Powls retired in 1933, Karsh took over the studio. His first solo exhibition was in 1936 at the Château Laurier hotel.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King discovered Karsh, and he was so impressed that he arranged introductions with visiting dignitaries for portrait sittings. Karsh’s work further attracted the attention of various celebrities. On December 30, 1941, he took this now iconic photograph of Winston Churchill. His career took off and he became internationally known for his portraits.

He moved his studio into the Château Laurier hotel in 1973, and it remained there until he retired in 1992.

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

A good place to see Karsh’s portraits is through Google. Another place to visit would be his Official Website. Another site that I only discovered today is PhotoQuotes (Quotations from the world of photography). I also recommend visiting The Ottawa Citizen.

16 comments

  1. Furrylittlegnime had no idea who Mr Karsh was until someone pointed him out to her in the Boston Public Garden one day – obviously a long time ago. Then, she would see him all of the time. He would sit in the same place, near a park bench and under a tree with a caretaker by his side and just take in the sights and sounds. Another tidbit of info is that a lot of his photography is hanging on the walls at the Brigham…

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  2. As a public person, Churchill, like us all, tended to put on a public face around photographers. It wasn’t what Karsh saw in the man, however. In an inspired moment, after several attempts to capture Churchill in a fresh way, he took the great man’s cigar away from him. That upset Churchill, and that produced the scowl that became central to this iconic image of the PM. Karsh was a genius at portraiture.

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    • Yes, I’ve learned a lot about him while writing this post. I’ve seen him more and more of a genius than I had thought! Thank you again for reminding me of him! 🙂

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