Art Institute Celebrates the Life and Work of Master Photographer

Art Daily
Jan 7 2009

Art Institute Celebrates the Life and Work of Master Photographer
Yousof Karsh

CHICAGO, IL.- The Art Institute of Chicago has organized an exhibition
that focuses on Yousuf Karsh–the man responsible for some of the 20th
century’s most famous photographic portraits of celebrities and public
figures. Yousuf Karsh: Regarding Heroes–on view January 22-April 26,
2009 –highlights the remarkable depth, skill, and poignancy with
which Karsh captured such luminaries as Winston Churchill, Audrey
Hepburn, Ernest Hemingway, Georgia O’Keeffe, Albert Einstein,
Christian Dior, and Marian Anderson. To mark the centenary of his
birth, this retrospective displays Karsh’s best portrait subjects in
the prints he himself preferred. The 100 photographs in the exhibition
are drawn from a set of more than 200 master prints given to the Art
Institute as a promised gift by his widow, Estrellita Karsh.

Yousuf Karsh arrived in Canada as a teenage refugee, escaping the
genocide in Turkish Armenia. He was trained by his uncle–and later
by John Garo in Boston–as a professional portrait photographer. At
first this meant pleasing his sitters, rather than the editors and
publishers who, with their staff photographers, kept an eye on
fashion and celebrity. In 1941, after nine years as a struggling
young photographer in Ottawa, Karsh captured the unforgettable image
of Winston Churchill that became known as "the roaring lion." His
name and his career were made almost instantly. Despite his success,
Karsh still lived in a period of uncertainty, especially concerning
the fate of European democracies and indeed the future of Western
civilization. It was in that period that Karsh captured, like no
other photographer, the faces of the people who defined the age. It
is this notion of heroism and its stylistic rendition that the
exhibition Regarding Heroes examines and illuminates.

Yousuf Karsh’s lifelong ambition was to search for a form within a
face, one that could become a symbol for a life that was purposeful,
meaningful, and generally virtuous. "I speak with some experience when
I say that I have rarely left the company of accomplished men and
women without feeling that they had in them real sincerity,
integrity–yes, and sometimes vanity of course–and always a sense of
high purpose." In his 60-year career, Karsh seldom wavered from this
goal, even when fame and fortune came his way. Neither did he discard
his trademark variations in lighting style that he perfected in the
late 1940s while other fashions came and went. Unchanging, too, was
his genius at capturing the revealing and ephemeral psychological
expressions, those fleeting disclosures of character and purpose for
which his famous sitters trusted him.

Karsh was the preferred photographer of kings, queens, princes,
presidents, prime ministers, generals, and other political figures
because he rendered them with an unbiased and unfailing regard for
their dignity. Karsh and the musicians, artists, writers, scientists,
actors, and intellectuals he photographed shared a parallel ambition:
to create works of art of lasting value. In making what now seem
singular, monumental statements honoring those he considered his
contemporary heroes, he stood alone in his field, so much so that it
could be argued he was the last of his kind.

Yousuf Karsh: Regarding Heroes is organized by the Art Institute of
Chicago. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated
catalogue, written by exhibition curator David Travis, former Curator
of Photography at the Art Institute, and issued by Boston publisher
David R. Godine. The 192-page book traces Karsh’s artistic development
and reassesses his place in the history of photography. It will be
available in January 2009 and can be purchased at the Art Institute’s
Museum Shop.

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