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Yousuf Karsh

Biography

“You can make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.”

Sir Winston Churchill to Yousuf Karsh

For 65 years, Karsh has presented us with a catalogue of famous faces. Karsh portraits have become 20th century icon-the kind of images that define an age and are etched into memory. Karsh portraits-some of which include Sir Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Albert Einstein-rank among the world’s most celebrated photographs.

Yousuf Karsh was born in Turkish Armenia, growing up as a Christian in Turkey under Muslim rule. Karsh was just 14 when the family fled the horror of genocide in Armenia for freedom in Syria, with nothing but their belongings on their backs. At the tender age of 16, Karsh’s parents sent him to Sherbooke, Quebec, to live and work with his uncle, George Nakash, a portrait photographer.

Recognizing his nephew’s talent, in 1928, Nakash sent 20-year-old Karsh to Boston to study with John H. Garo, one of the top portrait photographers in America. His exposure to the powerful and famous in Boston would leave an indelible impression on the young man and determine the course of his life.

Young, talented and hungry for knowledge, Karsh returned to Canada and set up a humble studio on Sparks Street in Ottawa. Eventually, he caught the eye of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who took a liking to the relatively unknown photographer and helped him arrange for visiting dignitaries to sit for portraits.

One of the famous and accomplished portrait photographers of all time. Of the most 100 notable people of the century, named by the International Who’s Who (2000), Karsh had photographed 51, Karsh was also the only Canadian to make the list.

Yousuf Karsh died in a Boston hospital on July 13, 2002 after complications following surgery. He was 93.