Aug 25 2004
Gritty images tell story of auto industry’s past
By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News
WINDSOR – Louis M. Papp’s modeling career began and ended the same
day – but at least he worked with the best.
The 70-year-old Windsor businessman was a teen when renowned
photographer Yousuf Karsh showed up at Ford of Canada’s now-defunct
Windsor trade school, where Papp was a student. Karsh, who gained
fame for a 1941 portrait of Winston Churchill, had been commissioned
by Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. to document the company’s Windsor
operations for its 1950 annual report.
The photographer enlisted Papp and his classmates to pose for him.
`I was somewhat of an amateur photographer myself,’ Papp recalled.
`But when I saw his equipment, I knew he wasn’t a beginner.’
The photo featuring Papp is part of a long-forgotten collection of
Karsh images on display through Nov. 14 at the Art Gallery of
Windsor. They not only reflect Karsh’s distinctive use of light and
shadow, they are snapshots of an industrial era before automation.
There are gritty images of tradesmen with meaty forearms and brows
glistening with perspiration. Some workers are focused on the task at
hand – spray-painting or tending a foundry furnace – while others
smile directly at the camera, transporting the viewer back to a time
when people were more intimately involved in auto manufacturing.
`They give the machines life and movement,’ Karsh said at the time.
`It is really their skill that gives a car strength and beauty.’
The exhibition also mirrors the auto industry’s growth pattern.
One hundred years ago this month, Henry Ford chose Windsor as the
site of his first international expansion and opened a factory to
build a Model T precursor, the Model C. As the Canadian company grew,
similar to Ford’s evolution in Detroit, job seekers flocked there
from around the world.
Karsh’s subjects – with names such as Fraser, LaMarsh and Wasyke –
reflect an ethnic diversity that survives in Windsor today. And all
are depicted with a sensitivity that borders on reverence.
`He saw everyone exactly the same, whether it was a head waiter or a
head of state,’ said Jerry Fielder, curator of the Karsh estate’s
collection and a former assistant to the photographer. `Whenever he
was photographing anyone, they had 100 percent of his attention and
nothing else mattered.’
Karsh, whose work is included among the permanent collections at New
York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s National Portrait
Gallery, emigrated from Armenia to Canada in 1924, eventually opening
a studio in Ottawa, the nation’s capital. The capital setting
afforded him access to political leaders and other influential
thinkers who sat for his most memorable portraits.
They included John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, Jawaharlal Nehru,
Fidel Castro, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, Muhammad Ali and
Karsh also had some rather offbeat assignments, such as documenting
behind-the-scenes activity during filming for the 1969 movie, `Planet
of the Apes.’
Karsh, who died in 2002 at 93, was commissioned to shoot industrial
scenes for other annual reports and some of these photos are also
part of the Windsor exhibition. But the Ford shots, of which there
are about two dozen, are the focus.
The photos were so well-received when originally published that Ford
of Canada featured the shots in a national touring exhibition. In the
half-century since, however, the collection has gradually been
dismantled, with photos haphazardly dispersed to decorate boardrooms
Cassandra Getty, curator of the Windsor gallery exhibition, restored
the collection with help from Ford of Canada. Partly because of those
efforts, Fielder donated two Karsh pieces to the Art Gallery of
Windsor’s permanent collection.
One is a Churchill portrait and the other features Maurice Lehoux,
who worked in the paint shop at Ford’s former Windsor car plant,
where the automaker now builds engines. When Maurice’s photo was
taken, Karsh’s greatness was lost on Lehoux, said his widow, Gloria
Lehoux, 70, of Windsor.
`He thought it was just … nothing,’ she said with a shrug.
Gow Crapper considered the exercise a bit of a joke. Sylvia O’Neil
Crapper of Windsor recalled how her late father-in-law described the
day Karsh spotted him on the assembly line and chose him as a
`He said to Gow, `You come with me.’ So Gow said, `Hey fellas! I’m
going to Hollywood!’ ‘
Gow Crapper, who died in 1987 at the age of 62, received $1 for the
use of his likeness – the same fee paid to Karsh’s other Ford
subjects. Crapper’s widow, Shirley, has the original image Karsh shot
of her husband.
Signed by the famed photographer, Fielder estimated its value at
between $5,000 and $8,000.
Papp, who now coordinates overseas joint ventures through his
company, Manufacturing Advisory Services, doesn’t have a copy of his
photo. He recalled seeing it once, many years ago, and was unaware it
was part of the Windsor exhibition – until his daughter visited the
`I had to do a double take,’ Patricia Papp said.