Photographer Karsh Dies at 93 in Boston

BOSTON (CP-AP)–Photographer and raconteur Yousuf Karsh–known as Karsh of Ottawa to generations of world leaders–celebrities and cognoscenti who sought immortality through the lenses of his cameras–has died. He was 93.

Karsh died at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston on Saturday–said hospital spokeswoman Jacqui Fowler. His European agent–Roger Eldridge–said Karsh died of complications following surgery.

Karsh’s subjects have included world leaders–artists and celebrities.

Karsh’s studio in the Chateau Laurier Hotel where he once lived–just across the canal from Parliament–became a waypoint for many of the greatest names of the 20th century. And if they couldn’t come to him–Karsh went to them.

Kennedy–Castro–Einstein–Churchill–Mandela–Hemingway–Schweitzer–Kruschev. Presidents and prime ministers. Kings and queens. Scientists and doctors. Authors–composers and artists. The list seems endless.

"When the famous start thinking of immortality–they call for Karsh of Ottawa," George Perry once wrote in London’s Sunday Times.

Karsh–born in Turkey on December 23–1908–left his native land to escape persecution for his Armenian heritage and came to Canada in 1924 to live with his uncle–a photographer–in Sherbrooke–Quebec.

He dreamed of becoming a doctor but didn’t have the money for medical school–so after a brief apprenticeship his uncle sent him off to Boston to study photography under eminent portraitist John H. Garo. It was there–in Boston’s museums and galleries–that Karsh discovered the cultural treasures of the world and refined his understanding of light and shadow.

He launched his Ottawa studio in 1932–moving to his famous digs at the Chateau Laurier in 1972.

On December 30–1941–Karsh had one of the most famous photographic encounters in the history of the craft.

British prime minister Winston Churchill had addressed the Canadian Parliament and Karsh was there to record one of the century’s great leaders.

"He was in no mood for portraiture and two minutes were all that he would allow me as he passed from the House of Commons chamber to an anteroom," Karsh wrote in Faces of Our Time (U of T Press–1971)–his 10th of 15 books.

Churchill marched into the room scowling–Karsh wrote–"regarding my camera as he might regard the German enemy."

His expression suited Karsh perfectly–but the cigar stuck between his teeth seemed incompatible with such a solemn and formal occasion.

"Instinctively–I removed the cigar. At this the Churchillian scowl deepened–the head was thrust forward belligerently–and the hand placed on the hip in an attitude of anger."

The image captured Churchill and the England of the time perfectly defiant and unconquerable. It became one of the most reproduced photographs ever taken–used on Churchill commemorative stamps in many countries–including Canada–Britain–Australia–New Zealand and the United States.

Karsh was polite and curious. He asked questions–elicited answers–reflections–profound moods. His sessions became known as "visits" and his subjects gave of themselves "with love and respect," said his brother.

"People knew they had a master with them and they appreciated that opportunity. They gave him the opportunity to find out what he needed to know about them so he could render them in the best way possible."

"I call it the ‘inward power,’ " he wrote in Karsh Portfolio (U of T Press–1967). "Within every man and woman a secret is hidden–and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can. The revelation–if it comes at all–will come in a small fraction of a second with an unconscious gesture–a gleam of the eye–a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world. In that fleeting interval of opportunity the photographer must act or lose his prize."

The recipient of 17 honorary degrees and the only Canadian named one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century by the International Who’s Who (he had photographed more than half of them)–Karsh leaves behind a legacy for all the world.

His work is in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada–New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art–George Eastman House–La Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris–the National Portrait Gallery in London–the National Portrait Gallery of Australia and many others.

The National Archives of Canada holds his complete collection–including negatives–prints and documen’s. His photographic equipment was donated to Ottawa’s Museum of Science and Technology.


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