Yousuf Karsh – ChatterQuote January 2014
“Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness.”
Yousuf Karsh was an Armenian-Canadian portrait photographer and an “early” Capricorn, born in Mardin, a city in the Ottoman Empire (known today as Turkey) on December 23, 1908 and who died in Boston, Massachusetts on July 13, 2002, aged 93! Karsh grew up during the Armenian Genocide witnessing the massacre of his relatives and watching his sister die of starvation. How incredible is it to think that such an incredible master of his craft was able to emerge from such horrendous beginnings? But thanks to his parents, he was sent to live with his uncle George Nakash, a photographer in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada when he was sixteen years old. And the rest, as they say, is history!
You may recall my friend Julie Grahame manages the estate of Yousuf Karsh, and has most graciously allowed me to use several of his iconic portraits in previous newsletters. This time however, we get to feature the photographer himself, and show you one of his self-portraits! I chose this one because the frame of the glass negative plate suggests a more subtle sense of “Structure.”
Julie also reminded me that The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC is currently showing “Yousuf Karsh: American Portraits,” which tells the history of America through individuals who have shaped its culture, and runs until April 27, 2014. If you live in the area and haven’t already done so, or you plan on visiting in the next few months, be sure to check it out this “must-see” exhibition!
Karsh attributes not only the time spent with his uncle to his passion for photography and subsequent success, but also to the years spent apprenticing Armenian photographer John H. Garo in Boston, (additional thanks go to Uncle Nakash who arranged the apprenticeship!) I highly recommend that you read Karsh’s own accounts of his life and career on his website, where on the home page it simply but rightfully states: “Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002) is one of the masters of 20th century photography. His body of work includes portraits of statesmen, artists, musicians, authors, scientists, and men and women of accomplishment. His extraordinary and unique portfolio presents the viewer with an intimate and compassionate view of humanity.
Interestingly, compassion is not exactly the first word one associates with the sign of Capricorn, but because his birthday was so close to the end of Sagittarius, and after witnessing such atrocities as a young child, we can better comprehend where that trait comes from. As I’ve mentioned before, Capricorns are the builders, not only of “buildings” but also of “legacies” – and that is what Yousuf Karsh did.
As well as checking out Karsh’s personal stories, be sure to also view the video clips and the photo gallery of his own life on the website. In the video clip from 60 Minutes with Morley Safer in 1977, on being a hero worshipper, not a debunker, Karsh conveniently tells us he has a “constructive approach” – how very Capricorn is that?