Last Updated July 13, 2018
Winston Churchill, 1941 ©Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh

American-Canadian (Born 1908 - Died 2002 ) PREMIUM LISTING Featured Hot
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People and portraits
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Humphrey Bogart, 1946 ©Yousuf Karsh
Boris Karloff, 1946 ©Yousuf Karsh
Pablo Picasso, 1954 ©Yousuf Karsh
Ernest Hemingway, 1957 ©Yousuf Karsh
Paul Robeson, 1941 ©Yousuf Karsh
Marian Anderson, 1945 ©Yousuf Karsh
Beatrice Lillie, 1948 ©Yousuf Karsh
George Bernard Shaw, 1943 ©Yousuf Karsh
Peter Lorre, 1946 ©Yousuf Karsh
Martin Luther King, 1962 ©Yousuf Karsh
Ruth Draper, 1936 ©Yousuf Karsh
Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh has been recognised as Canada's leading portrait photographer. He is best known for his portraits of celebrities, politicians and other notable individuals. Karsh approached all of his subjects in a similar way, from Mother Theresa to unknown people who sat for the photographer to gift a portrait to a spouse. He travelled regularly, preferring to photograph people in their own environments to maximize their level of comfort in front of the camera. And as much as possible, he spent time getting to know his subjects before taking their photograph. In his photographs he was looking to capture the essence of his subjects.

Born in Armenia in 1908, he and his family survived the Armenian Genocide by escaping to a refugee camp in Syria. In 1923 his family sent him to Canada by ship where he initially lived in Quebec with his maternal uncle, the portrait photographer George Nakashian. Karsh worked for his uncle’s photographic business for several years before embarking on an apprenticeship in Boston under John H. Garo, who was known for photographing Boston celebrities.

In 1932 Karsh opened his own studio in Ottawa where he would be based for the next 40 years. His early work caught the attention of then Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, and through this relationship Karsh was given the opportunity to photograph visiting dignitaries. But it was his 1941 portrait of Winston Churchill that introduced his work to an International audience. The image has been described as one of the most iconic portraits of all time, and according to The Economist magazine it is the “most reproduced portrait in the history of photography”.

During the Second World War Karsh photographed many military and political figures. After the war Karsh began shooting celebrity portraits which he continued to do until his retirement in 1992.

His work has been on display in many galleries and museums around the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Museum of Modern Art in New York, National Gallery of Canada, National Portrait Gallery in London, National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, Art Institute of Chicago, Saint Louis Art Museum and the George Eastman Museum.

Karsh was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.

Karsh died in 2002 in Boston in the USA at the age of 93 from complications that arose following surgery.

In 1987 the National Archives of Canada acquired the complete collection of Karsh items, including the negatives, prints and transparencies produced and retained by Karsh since 1933. The current Library and Archives Canada collection has 355,000 items in its Karsh collection, including all of his 150,000 negatives.

The Karsh Award, dedicated to Yousuf and his brother Malak Karsh, is awarded by the City of Ottawa every two years to an established professional artist for outstanding artistic work in a photo-based medium.


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