Considered an eminence for connoisseurs of photography, Yousuf Karsh created captivating and mystifying portraits that revealed a depth of character and an incomparable aesthetic, establishing a canon in the practice of portraiture. Karsh’s signature lighting virtuosity and his penetrating gaze captured the spirit of some of the world’s most influential characters. These sitters included Albert Einstein, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pablo Picasso, Senator and Mrs. John F Kennedy, and Audrey Hepburn, to name a select few. Consequently, Karsh’s photographs helped immortalize and expand in his subjects an aura of magnificence, an effect first referred to as being “Karshed” by Field Marshall Montgomery.
“To make enduring photographs, one must learn to see with the mind’s eye, for the heart and the mind are the true lens of the camera.”
Born in Mardin, Armenia, in 1908, Yousuf Karsh experienced a difficult childhood. His family fled the beauty of their native landscape, fleeing the violence of Turkish persecution towards Armenians in the mid-1910s. “My recollections of those days comprise a strange mixture of blood and beauty, persecution, and peace.” After settling in Syria for some time, Karsh’s father would eventually send then 16-year-old Yousuf to live under his uncle’s care in Canada. Yousuf Karsh would adapt well in the West, finding a calling in the practice of photography, learning the profession in his uncle’s photography studio, and thus beginning a career that captivated him entirely. Karsh later moved to Boston to apprentice with established photographer John H. Garo; it was under Garo’s guidance that Karsh developed his technical prowess and gained access to famous creative personalities.
Karsh’s impact on the world of photography was eventually so significant that upon his demise, The Metropolitan Museum of Art described him as one of the greatest portrait photographers of the twentieth century.
Karsh considered the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to be his university, studying the artworks there while he apprenticed with John Garo in the 1920s. He would return to the museum throughout his life. Yousuf and Estrellita Karsh have endowed the museum through the work of the Karsh Center, and it holds the archive of Karsh original fine art prints.
“To my deep satisfaction, through my photographs many people have been introduced to some of the outstanding personalities of our time and, I hope, have been given a more intimate glimpse of and greater insight into them. My own quest now has stretched for over half a lifetime. 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 when something close to my ideal has been attained. It has kept me young in heart, adventurous, forever seeking, and always aware that the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.”