Karsh Captured Them All

Famous portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh holding cigarette in hand close to face. (Photo by Lida Moser/Pix Inc./Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Arguably the most prolific portraitists of our time, Yousuf Karsh would have turned 103 today. The Canadian-based photographer died in 2002 at age 94, leaving behind a list of portrait subjects that is most certainly the envy of historians, biographers and reporters alike. Throughout his 60-year career, Karsh captured the spirit of influential figures – most notably Winston Churchill in 1941, the portrait that Karsh credited with changing his life and reportedly becoming one of the most widely reproduced images in the history of photography.

At the age of 17, the Armenian-born artist arrived in Halifax on New Year’s Eve in 1925; Karsh began his Canadian life in Sherbrooke, Que., living with his uncle, George Nakash, an established photographer. Karsh would never pursue his original desire to study medicine but discovered a passion for photography apprenticing with his uncle and later in Boston with celebrated portraitist John H. Garo.

He return to Canada in 1931, setting up shop in Ottawa The artist’s career began with photojournalism for periodicals like Saturday Night, but it was a friendship with Prime Minister Mackenzie King that set the stage for Karsh to photograph prominent public figures, home and abroad.

His portfolio contains artist Pablo Picasso, designer Christian Dior, scientist Albert Einstein, author Ernest Hemingway, humanitarian Mother Teresa, actress Audrey Hepburn and Queen Elizabeth II, to name a few. Some pretty important and influential Canadians also sat for Karsh including, sitting prime ministers 1931 through 1993 as well as feminist author, Madge MacBeth, novelist and playwright Robertson Davies, hockey great Wayne Gretzky, author Margaret Atwood and actor Christopher Plummer.

He left his home and studio in the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel to retire to Boston with his wife, Estrellita in 1997. Karsh’s work hangs in permanent collections at museums and galleries around the world.

-Tara Losinski