Thursday, January 19, 2017


                                                                    ( Yousuf Karsh )                           
                                                            ( Camus with Karsh )
                                                            ( Camus photo by Karsh )
                                                              ( Camus photo by Karsh )
                                                            ( Camus photo by Karsh )



“ There is a brief moment when all there is in a man's mind and soul and spirit is reflected through his eyes, his hands, his attitude. This is the moment to record”………Yousuf Karsh


“Within every man and woman a secret is hidden, and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can.”………Yousuf Karsh


Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002 ) was a master photographer of the 20th century. An Arabic speaking Christian ,  he survived the  Armenian Genocide  that killed many of his family members . After staying in a refugee camp in Syria for some time, Karsh moved to Canada permanently in 1923. He was a visiting professor at Ohio University and at Emerson College in Boston. He happened to be a  friend of Albert camus and accordingly, some of the best portrait photographs of  Albert Camus have been done by Karsh .

Karsh was a portrait photographer who in 1941 took what became the most famous picture of Prime Minister Winston Churchill: the one where he stands, hand on hip, glaring at the lens — and the one that appears on Britain’s 5-pound note. It was taken while Churchill was in Canada, during an improvised shoot. Forty-eight of his portraits of American personalities wre now on display  at the University of Miami in Coral Gables . The 48 personalities are individuals who stood out in everything from politics and science to film, culture and business. Many are highly familiar images, such as the one of a sweater-clad Albert Einstein, hands clasped over a tabletop; of the actor Humphrey Bogart, posing with a burning cigarette; and of a smiling Eleanor Roosevelt, a pencil between her fingers. The Karsh shots are also “friendly pictures. They’re not ‘gotcha,’ they’re not paparazzi: they’re respectful and engaging. Karsh portraits were (with the exception of that very spontaneous Churchill shot) not spur-of-the-moment affairs. The photographer would spend time talking to the subjects beforehand and do research on them. He had sophisticated lighting in his studio to add contrast and drama to the shot.

 During his career, Karsh held 15,312 sittings and produced more than 370,000 negatives. Karsh’s subjects include  Albert Camus ,Betty Low, Paul Robeson, Lord Louis Mountbatten, General Charles de Gaulle, H. G. Wells, Nelson Rockefeller, King Faisa, Yehudi Menuhin, Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Harry Truman, Clement Attlee, Georges Braque, Bertrand Russel, Harold Wilson, Somerset Maugham, René Clair, Christian Dior, Walt Disney, Sir Alexander Fleming, André Malraux, Audrey Hepburn, Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Charlton Heston, Jonas Salk, Jacqueline Kennedy, Dag Hammarskjöld, Gina Lollobrigida, Alfred Hitchcock, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Leonid Brezhne, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Ravi Shankar, Muhammad Ali, Francois Mitterand, Sophia Loren, Ronald Reagan, Mother Teresa, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton, Jasper Johns, Nikita S. Khrushchev , Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro , Andy Warhol, Albert Einstein, Queen Elizabeth, Benazir Bhutto,Prince Philip, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Albert Schweitzer, Helen Keller and Pablo Picasso, and his photographs of them and thousands of others were memorable as well. His photographs of many of the 20th century's great names in the arts, politics and science made him one of the world's best-known portrait photographers. Karsh was a  master in capturing moods , inner feelings and even something that was brewing up in the mind of his subject..In addition to ''Faces of Destiny'' (1946) his books of portraits included ''Portraits of Greatness'' (1959), ''Faces of Our Time'' (1971) and ''Karsh Portraits'' (1976). Two other books, ''Photographs of Yousuf Karsh: Men Who Make Our World'' (1967) and ''Karsh: A Fifty-Year Retrospective'' (1983).

About the genocide in Armenia wherefrom he had to flee, he remembers this :-

“It was the bitterest of ironies that Mardin, whose tiers of rising buildings were said to resemble the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and whose succulent fruits convinced its inhabitants it was the original Garden of Eden, should have been the scene of the Turkish atrocities against the Armenians in 1915. Cruelty and torture were everywhere; nevertheless, life had to go on — albeit fearfully — all the while. Ruthless and hideous persecution and illness form part of my earliest memories: taking food parcels to two beloved uncles torn from their homes, cast into prison for no reason, and later thrown alive into a well to perish; the severe typhus epidemic in which my sister died, in spite of my mother’s gentle nursing. My recollections of those days comprise a strange mixture of blood and beauty, of persecution and peace. In 1922, our family was allowed to flee. We had to leave our doors open — with us we took no baggage, only our lives. And we had to flee on foot. During our month-long journey with a Bedouin and Kurdish caravan, which would have taken only two days by the forbidden train, my parents lost every valuable they had managed to save. My father’s last silver coin went to rescue me after I was caught foolishly making a sketch of piled-up human bones and skulls, the last bitter landmark of my country.”

In 1998, Karsh celebrated his 90th birthday. Queen Elizabeth II opened his exhibition, “Karsh in London,” at the renovated Canada House in Trafalgar Square. That same year Karsh was honored with the Fox Talbot Award. He died in Boston in July, 2002.

“ There is a brief moment when all there is in a man's mind and soul and spirit is reflected through his eyes, his hands, his attitude. This is the moment to record”.......Yousuf Karsh.
( Avtar Mota )

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