Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002) was one of the most famous and successful photographers of the twentieth century. Karsh: Image Maker, an exhibition currently at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) in Edmonton, tells Karsh's story using his photographs, letters, cameras and equipment.
Karsh began photographing at the age of 16 after his parents gave him a Kodak Brownie. When he was 20 he moved to Boston to work with a respected photographer and fellow Armenian John H. Garo. He returned to Ottawa where he established a photographic practice.
He is described in the exhibition as a '...displaced refugee, eager apprentice, striving entrepreneur and intuitive artist' who knew pictorial, technical and social codes.
'Karsh of Ottawa' had sittings with more than 15,000 people in his sixty years of work between 1932 and 1992.
This exhibition includes some of his cameras including one the two Calumet 8x10 view cameras he bought in 1956 for his Ottawa and New York studios. Karsh also used a 4x5 Speed Graphic and a medium format Rolleiflex when he travelled. Most of the photographs in this exhibition are black and white enlargements made from 8x10 negatives, although there are some contact prints and several works in colour.
Karsh was indeed an image maker: his images of famous people like Winston Churchill, Alberta Schweitzer, and Nelson Mandela are famous. He ensured that he portrayed his subjects in a positive way and considered his photos to be beams of hope.
'The question ... whether I should record the legend or something else about the personality...I am satisfied that no purpose would be served if I were consciously to seek to convert what could be a portrait of greatness into a moment of weakness. Such moments are not worthy of recording.'
If you've always wanted to use a view camera to create an image similar to the ones made famous by Karsh you can do so at this exhibition. One can photograph someone, or be photographed, using a digital version of a view camera. Adjust the lighting, frame your image, press the bulb, and use the computer which is part of the exhibition to send the digital image you have created to your e-mail address.
Karsh: Image Maker will continue at the AGA until May 30, 2010.