Karsh Signature

Yousuf Karsh, master photographer of the 20th century

Exhibit Citizen Karsh’s Collection

First official Canadian Citizenship ceremony at the Supreme Court building, with Karsh in the back row, January, 1947

In a letter to the Ottawa Citizen, (January 12, 2017) Lilly Koltun, PhD, Director General (ret’d), Portrait Gallery of Canada, writes:

Exhibit citizen Karsh’s collection.

Re: Marking 70 years of King, country at a proud citizenship celebration, Jan. 4.

I was delighted to read Kelly Egan’s article (70 years later, for King and country, new Canadians mark milestone) describing the recent citizenship ceremony hosted by Minister John McCallum at the Supreme Court of Canada – particularly because it mentioned both the diversity of the group of new citizens and the fact that Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had the certificate numbered 0001.

I was powerfully reminded of Yousuf Karsh’s story about receiving his Canadian citizenship during that first ceremony. Karsh was a young immigrant from a refugee family trying to escape the Armenian massacres. By mid-century in Canada, he had grown to become our most world-renowned photographer, indeed our most world-renowned artist in any medium, due to his extraordinary portraiture. His image of Winston Churchill was never surpassed.

In his autobiography, Karsh relates that “citizenship would be conferred formally on one representative from each province, and I was given the honour of representing the Province of Ontario. As Ontario had the largest population of any of the provinces, I would receive certificate No. 1 … However, I did not have very long to relish my dreams of glory of being the No. 1 citizen of my adopted land … ultimately my No. 1 certificate went to none other than Prime Minister Mackenzie King himself. No. 10 came to me. However, if I hold my thumb over the zero I can still pretend I hold No. 1.”

How extraordinary it would have been if a refugee from terror had indeed become our “No. 1” citizen at that long-ago ceremony!

It is my personal hope that one day his unique prints may be honoured through regular exhibitions as Karsh’s entire production over 60 years, some 22,000 sittings of Canadians and international figures, is held in Library and Archives Canada as part of the national portrait collection.