Reading Yousuf Karsh
I’m currently reading Yousuf Karsh’s biography “In search of Greatness”. In it he has about 12 pages discussing his approach of photography and I thought I’d share this bit of wisdom.
“I believe that it is the Artist’s job to accomplish at lease two things- to stir the emotions of the viewer and to lay bare the soul of his subject. When my own emotions have been stirred, I hope I can succeed in stirring those of others. But it is the mind and soul of the personality before my camera that interests me the most, and the greater the mind and soul, the greater my interest.”
What do you think?
Another gem from Karsh
Here is another gem I picked up from Karshe's book.
“Everyday we witness commendable amateur efforts, very often made in colour. I mean amateur in the true sense, that is taken by people who do not earn their living through photography. We must always be prepared for happy surprises from such amateurs, because they are the most likely of all to be uninhibited in their approach”
I mentioned on another post the other day that I was fortunate to find a wonderful tome of Karsh's portraits in a used bookstore. I believe it was titled something like: Portraits of Great Americans 1940 to 1980 or something like that.
Each of the portraits is spectacular and they do seem to reflect the "greatness" of the various artists, politicians, celebrities etc.
Yes, they are highly "posed" and very flattering - but I think that that is the greatness of Karsh - he brings out the "dignity" of his subjects.
Some might object that he "pandered" to the wealthy and powerful - but he was also a damned good photographer! ;)
In Search of Greatness is a great read. I have owned a copy for several years and need to go back and reread it. I also have the book Karsh, a wonderful collection of his portraits. Both my books were gifts from a friend, he sent them to Karsh and had them inscribed to me.........now that's a gift! :D
One of the best lectures I ever attended was by Karsh - and he had slides!
I was working as a photographer for a newspaper at the time, so I photographed him giving the lecture. His response - a large wink:D
Sadly, the light levels were such as to permit slide shows - the "wink" photo was too blurred to be usable.
That was where I saw the alternate version of Winston Churchill's portrait - with Churchill smiling.
Interestingly enough, Yousuf Karsh's brother, Malak Karsh was also a fine photographer in his own right. It was his photograph that graced the back of Canada's $1.00 bill, when we had a $1.00 bill. In what may be an archetypical response of a successful immigrant to Canada, he was known throughout most of his professional career by his first name, Malak, because it made it less likely that he and his brother would be confused.
There is a lot to be learned from either of them.
A great and interesting photographer indeed! My husband had the wonderful good fortune and opportunity to become friends with a great photographer Herman Leonard who apprenticed under Karsh for a year (I believe in 1948).
Known for his portraits of Jazz greats in the 40's and 50's, Mr. Leonard told us that the lighting he learned from Karsh, along with many other elements, was an important key in his own photography. Herman Leonard worked with Karsh during the sessions with Einstein, Harry S. Truman and Clark Gable, among many others.
I think Leonard, along with Karsh, can be considered among the pioneers who 'sculpted' with light!!
In my first year of teaching photography, I had a young student who asked, pointing to the Karsh portrait of Winston Churchill that hung on the wall, "Would you like to meet that man?" I wondered aloud if he was not aware that Winston Churchill had been dead for many years. He responded by saying that he had been talking about Yousef Karsh, who was his next-door neighbor at the Ritz in Boston. When I finally found a way to respond, he suggested that he could ask Mr. Karsh to come in to the class. I think I simply nodded.
Mr. Karsh declined the opportunity to visit a small class of young beginners but graciously offered to have me and two or three of my students come to visit him in his apartment. Unfortunately, he became rather seriously ill very soon after that and the visit was never to happen.