Karsh Signature

Yousuf Karsh, master photographer of the 20th century

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Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg


One of America’s greatest poets and writers, Carl Sandburg was awarded the Pulitzer Prize three times - twice for volumes of his poetry, and once for his biography of Abraham Lincoln.

“The sitting for this portrait of Carl Sandburg was brief for he could spare only a few minutes in 1954 in my New York studio-apartment for a portrait, and less for conversation. Still, the tall, broad figure, the massive, roughcast face, the clear eyes, and the mane of white hair falling across the forehead must delight any photographer. One might be photographing a more than life-size statue carved by a sculptor. I knew something of the life which had produced this impressive personage and I deeply admired it. Sandburg is, and looks, a self-made man. The poverty of his childhood - he left school at thirteen to help support his family - the years of labour as a dishwasher, bricklayer, harvester, and jack-of-all-trades are written clearly on his face and are expressed in his speech. He was blunt to me but friendly.

He placed himself completely at my disposal. “I'm your puppet,” he said. He didn't like my electric lights, however. They hurt his eyes. On the street, he told me, he often wore sun glasses. I asked the poet what he thought of the public reading of poetry. “Nothing much,” he said crisply. “Few can deliver it effectively. Some can't read. But some can, and they can even make bad poetry sound good.” Then he recalled that I had made a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill (taken under the same conditions of haste in Ottawa) which he admired. That gave me the chance to ask Sandburg what he thought of the British statesman, Were the intelligentsia of London trying to destroy him? Sandburg laughed at that. “At one time,” he said, “I had a low opinion of Churchill, five or ten years before the war. But he has grown. All the time he has grown in stature with the people and events. A great man.” And after a pause he added: “With the faults of a great man.””


Dec 16 1954

Mr. Carl Sandburg