Quote of the Week #6: Yousuf Karsh

Curators’ Corner

Quote of the Week #6: Yousuf Karsh

“Character, like photography, develops in darkness.”

– Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh, (December 23, 1908 – July 13, 2002) was an Armenian-Canadian photographer, and one of the most famous and accomplished portrait photographers of all time.

Having survived the Armenian Genocide after his parents sent him to live with his photographer uncle in Canada at age 16, Yousuf began working as an apprentice in studios, learning the craft of photography. After apprenticeship with portraitist John Garo in Boston, Yousuf returned to Ottawa and began his career as a photographer. He eventually gained the attention of none other than sitting Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King. This relationship resulted in the opportunity to photograph foreign dignitaries, which resulted in what is probably his most recognized portrait: that of Sir Winston Churchill. That portrait graced the cover of Life Magazine, launching Yousuf’s international career along the way.

Yousuf, a veritable master of studio lighting, had the distinct habit of separately lighting his subject’s hands. For his part, Yousuf found ways to distill the person sitting before his camera in conversation, laying in wait for a gesture or tick that would reveal just who they were.