Karsh Signature

Yousuf Karsh, master photographer of the 20th century

Portraits, curated by Grazia Neri

Galleria Carla Sozzani, Milan, Italy, 2009

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Yousuf Karsh, Carla Sozzani Gallery presents a selection of portraits which span Karsh's long, distinguished career as photographer.

Born in Mardin, in Turkish Armenia, Yousuf Karsh grew up in the horror of the massacres hitting his country. As he writes in his autobiography, “My memories of that time are a strange mixture of blood and beauty, of persecution and peace”.

At the age of 17, Karsh moved to Sherbrooke in Canada, where his uncle, George Nakash, was living and working as a photographer. It is here where his passion for photography begins.

In 1928, Karsh moved to Boston to apprentice with the photographer and portraitist John H. Garo; This period was very influential for Karsh, “I realized that the long afternoons and evenings spent with Garo have been my school. In one of those moments I decided that I would photograph men and women who have marked the history of the world”.

In 1932, Karsh relocated to Ottawa where he opened a studio. Fascinated by the numerous possibilities that the artificial light afforded him, he began to spend time in the theatre circles. Following modest commercial success, in 1941 Yousuf Karsh took the photograph of his life: he takes away from Sir Winston Churchill’s mouth his famous cigar, immortalizing him with a sulky expression. The picture of the British Prime Minister appeared on the cover of the Life Magazine, garnering the photographer international recognition. “That portrait shook my life – he admits later –it opened to me the door of the world”.

Politicians, Hollywood stars, scientists, writers, artists were his more faithful fellow travellers, with them he ran through the 20th century. Karsh, an excellent observer, recognized the details, the gestures, the glances of his subjects. In 1962 he wrote, “The endless fascination that I feel for the people I photograph is caused by what I call their inner strength. To try to catch that on film is and remains my prime aim."

The most famous and important personalities of the 20th century sat for Karsh: Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ernest Hemingway, Jean Cocteau, Christian Dior, Man Ray, Edward Steichen, Joan Baez, Alberto Giacometti, Nikita Khrushchev and Andy Warhol are only a few names represented in the exhibition.