Karsh Signature

Yousuf Karsh, master photographer of the 20th century

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, 1990

Nelson Mandela was photographed by Yousuf Karsh in Ottawa on this day, June 17, in 1990, just four months after Mandela’s release from prison. Brian Mulroney, Prime Minister of Canada at the time, greeted Mandela at the airport and accompanied him to the Chateau Laurier for his portrait.

The story of the sitting:

We were waiting in the lobby and the introductions were made. When the session started an hour later, Mandela was warm and friendly but obviously very tired. Yousuf then told him a story about Pope John XXIII. He had asked the Pontiff, “How many people work in the Vatican?” The Pope smiled and replied, “About half.” Mandela looked a little blank. Suddenly he got the joke, slapped the table, and roared with laughter. And, everything about the sitting changed.