I want to do something with artistic merit.
In all aspects, Karsh "had it together" to produce exceedingly masterful portraits on silver gelatin paper. He was stupid expensive in his day, but we've sort of lost appreciation for his aesthetic in the past two generations.
His work is far different than the pop-celebrity-fashion-photo culture that someone growing up in the 1980's or 1990's would imagine. More museum quality dutch painting inspired than rolling stone inspired.
Back to the original topic. I'm always up for challenges. And I like to excel at what I'm working on at that time. I'm still working on things that have lots of potential left to develop. I like to go beyond what other people have done, rather than strictly emulate something that's already been done, [before moving on to emulate again]. When I get done with those projects, I'd be up for trying some people photography with people I don't know quite so well.
What hasn't been mentioned, and is challenging, is trying techniques or processes outside of your comfort zone. If you've never done alt process variations, that's a good skill to develop that can expand what you see when you photograph; thinking about how the image will translate to various final mediums. Some photos that are kinda dull on silver can make a really special van dyke or cyanotype, and the inverse is true as well. The soft focus and/or old lens aesthetic is another good challenge. Going from crisp "safe" sharp realistic images such as in architecture or grand landscape, to blobs of light and dark and lenses that actually change focus when you stop down is getting outside of your comfort zone; sort of changing of religion from mainstream ansel adams to something more obscure and misunderstood.
And, back to the thread. Polymer photogravure - I've always wanted to try this, and have just taken a brave pill, ignored the under-confident voice in my head and completed a course. Daunting but worth it. Am currently trying to master the basics, and really enjoying it. Have discovered that intaglio ink is a real b*gger to remove from hands though - think you must need the pee from a nervous beagle...
his mastery of lighting is breath taking.
Regardless of the trend today to take a fly-on-the-wall/candid style photos, sometimes we as photographers actually want to portray something very specific, something we see in them, as Karsh did.
People like Churchill aren't necessarily going to do what we photographers ask, remember in his day job he was generally in charge. Some times we may even need to tick them off to get it.
As to walls (actually to all backgrounds), they have character, they tell us where the subject is and what they might be up to. I wouldn't portray say Japan's PM with the same wall Karsh chose for Churchill, it wouldn't make sense.
We can when we please apply many principles from painting. Every element of a portrait can be chosen.
To me he refined the lighting of photography, and was able to get a very distinctive level of communication going with his sitters. It's a very rare quality I see in most photography. I don't even know who a lot of the people that he photographed are; for all I know they could be strangers. Does it really matter that much that they are celebrities?
In addition, the portraits are beautifully lit for an appearance suiting the sitter. They are beautifully crafted prints with tons of visual impact. I mean, look at those prints!
Finally I have a lot of respect for how he returned the favor of being taught, by being a teacher, offering apprenticeships to young photographers.