Karsh Signature

Yousuf Karsh, master photographer of the 20th century

Tennessee Williams – Playwright & Painter

Tennessee Williams, 1956

“Tennessee Williams – Playwright & Painter” is an exhibition featuring nine of Tennessee William’s paintings dating from the 1970s. The show runs from May 2 – October 7, 2018, at the Jewish Museum of Florida, Miami Beach. Hanging in the gallery is an enlargement of this iconic photograph of Williams, made by Karsh in 1956.

Karsh recalls in Portraits of Greatness (1959): 

Tennessee William’s reply to my desire to photograph him was enthusiastic and spontaneous, like his plays. We met in his small New York apartment in 1956 and decided that the portrait should be made in his own environment, and I came to realize that his jovial, homespun man contained a tumultuous talent and a soul seldom at peace.

Superficially, the plot for this sitting – a sort of minor play rather on the comic side, with Mr. Williams as the comedian and the photographer as his foil – was quite perfect. I had found the master in the scene of his work, surrounded by his typewriter, his manuscript, and his ever present glass of Scotch. Moreover, he seemed to be surrounded by invisible friends. His telephone was constantly ringing as if for the deliberate purpose of distracting me. His obvious desire to co-operate with me and the feigned calm I can sometimes command in a pinch enabled us, however, to deal with invisible friends – and some visible ones – and to get on with the portrait.

… At last the portrait was done and when I showed it to some of my friends they remarked that it looked exactly like Williams’ plays. Perhaps. At any rate, the playwright’s deceptive ease of manner, his informal speech, and carefree air reminded me of various characters made by his pen – ordinary-looking men hiding an unsuspected fury which invariably erupts on the stage, often in tragedy… I hope this portrait catches at least a spark of that volcanic inward fire which makes each of his plays a sort of spiritual convulsion and leaves the audience limp with spent emotion.