The Camera Press Gallery, London, 2009
‘The Camera Press Gallery is proud to announce a special centenary exhibition of the work of the legendary photographer Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002).
Described as one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 20th century, Karsh’s list of sitters is a veritable who’s who of the people who have shaped the century’s history. In 2002 Karsh himself was named in a list of the 100 most notable people of the 20th century; he was equally delighted to find he had photographed over 50 of the other 100!
On show will be many of those icons including Hollywood greats Clark Gable, Liz Taylor and Audrey Hepburn; world leaders, Fidel Castro, Nikita Krushchev and Jawaharlal Pandit Nehru and giants from the worlds of science, arts and philosophy; among them, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, Andy Warhol and Mother Teresa.
The exhibition will span the seven decades of Karsh’s career, from the photograph that first made his name - his portrait of a bullish looking Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1941), still one of the world’s most frequently published images - to his later shoots of Nelson Mandela (1990) and Bill Clinton (1993).
Karsh was also no stranger to royalty. He photographed HM the Queen many times during his illustrious career; from 17-year-old Princess in 1943 to proud monarch and grandmother, grandchildren Princes Harry and William, in 1987. He also immortalized on film 12 United States Presidents, from Herbert Hoover to Bill Clinton; four Popes, from Pius XII to Pope John Paul II; and every British Prime Minister from Winston Churchill to John Major.
Karsh’s professed intention in his portrait photography was to stir the emotions of the viewer and to lay bare the sitter’s soul. His photographs were all shot using natural light, mainly in black and white. They have a dramatic instantly recognizable look, with the focus frequently on the eyes and hands. “To experience a Karsh photograph is to feel in the presence of history itself’, said curator Malcolm Rogers.
"The search for greatness of spirit has compelled me to work harder to strive for perfection knowing it to be unattainable. My quest has brought me great joy. It has kept me young at heart, adventurous, forever seeking, and always aware that the heart and the mind are the true lens of the camera.” - Yousuf Karsh
Karsh’s glamorous professional life was in marked contrast to his early years as a refugee from civil unrest in his native Armenia. Sent to live with an uncle in Canada, Karsh chose to follow his uncle’s profession as a photographer, training under humanist photographer John H. Garo for two years before setting up his own studio in Ottawa. Following the success of his Churchill portrait, Karsh became the most in demand photographer of his day. He continued to photograph celebrities and statesmen for another 45 years, until be was well into his eighties. He died in 2002 aged 93.
He is survived by his widow Estrellita Karsh who guards the flame of his legacy along with curator Jerry Fielder and Camera Press, which has represented the Karsh archive since 1947.’