Karsh Signature

Yousuf Karsh, master photographer of the 20th century

Better Photography: Great Masters

Betty Low, 1936

India’s Better Photography is the leading photography magazine in India and South Asia. Past issues have included articles about Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Alan Harvey, Cecil Beaton, Gordon Parks, Jane Evelyn Atwood, David Zimmerman, Helmut Newton, and Saul Leiter. June 2018’s issue features the work of Yousuf Karsh. In her in-depth article, Conchita Fernandes writes:

…how did he go about encapsulating his larger-than-life subjects in a photograph? What did he look for? And in the case of some of them, how did he maneuver around their daunting personalities? One example of this was the iconic photograph that he made of Winston Churchill, in 1941. Imagine plucking a cigar out of the mouth of an ill-disposed Churchill, who at the time had gained a kind of mythical status for this authoritative and robust approach in politics. “It’s a story that has been dramatised by the press a great deal… I photographed Churchill three times, twice after that occasion. It was a spontaneous act on my part. It was intuitive. It’s unthinkable that I would plan such a thing beforehand. It was similar to picking a piece of thread off your shirt. It was done with respect and appreciation. But he responded. His expression, although not planned on my part, fit the need of the hour. He represented the great British determination,” Karsh had said of the image. In response to the picture taken of him, Churchill had said to Karsh, “You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.” That was how far Karsh went to get the picture he wanted. But it was always done with grace and politeness. “I would stand and smile and bow through all the points of the compass… Perhaps it was the only thing I could do really well, and which people could understand.” He always looked for positive values in his sitters, even if they were not known for them. So his subjects trusted him, and revealed a part of their inner selves that very few photographers have managed to do since then.

Read the entire piece.