Home > Art History, Book Recommendations, Photography, Uncategorized > Book Recommendation: Karsh: A Biography in Images

Book Recommendation: Karsh: A Biography in Images

The pleasant surprise of this selection of Karsh photographs is that the book is actually an autobiography.  Like his photography, Karsh shines light on what he wants to and keeps in shadows what he does not want to dwell upon.  He speaks of fleeing the horrors of war in Armenia to the safety of an uncle in Quebec.  He tells of his interest in theater and how it influenced his photography leading him to use electric light.  Many sources state his work was related to or influenced by film noir but it was his actual in-person experience of the effects of directed theater lights that influenced him to leave behind the exclusive use of natural sunlight common to his mentors and peers.  He speaks lovingly of his mentors, two wives, career and memories of the many famous and historic people he made portraits for.

The book includes some of his earliest photographs, selections from a brief photojournalism assignment of Canada after the WWII had ended and many of his well known portraits .  This book is only a short sampling of his work at 192 pages total.  Karsh has included memories and anecdotes of each person with the photograph and they are laid out in chronological order; a young Princess Elizabeth becomes Queen, W.H. Auden is captured before the poet’s death.  Karsh has always been a delight to me in that he maintained a sense of humility throughout his life.  Being around people of power, authority or celebrity never seemed to have gone to his head or imbued any arrogance on his interactions with others.  Here are just three samples of an amazing book; Karsh’s words with his work.

Portia White by Yousuf Karsh, 1946

This vocal artist of African-Nova Scotian descent was at the height of her international career when we met.  Praised by critics for her “voice, musicianship, diction, and poised and gracious stag presence,” she was in the mnidst of a grueling international tour.  She spoke nostalgically of singing in the choir of her father’s church at age six and of her acclaimed debut concert at Town Hall in New York.  In 1960, I was pleased to be invited to the concert she considered the crowning achievement of her career – a command performance for Queen Elizabeth II.

Robert Frost by Yousuf Karsh, 1958

“Don’t make a saint of me,” said the crusty, beloved American poet, “I’m a rascal.”  At that time, he was siting in his littered, chaotic studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  His desk, a dilapidated piece of wood was supported by a piece of string and a battered walking stick.  Out of all this bedlam, I thought, comes so much beauty.  I asked him about his way of writing a poem.  It was like making a witticism, he said, “It just came. And -it only comes fifteen or twenty times a year.”  He would rather make a speech, he explained, than read his poetry aloud; every poem said all he had to say.

Carl Jung by Yousuf Karsh, 1958

The Swiss Psychiatrist in his library in Zurich, agreed with the title of James Thurber’s book, Let Your Mind Alone.  “But,” he remarked, “unfortunately, your mind is not discreet enough to leave you alone.”  I said I would make an unsatisfactory patient for the psychiatrist because I gained my happiness through my work.  “Ah,” he answered, “the secret of happiness -those who seek happiness can never find it.  You should wait till it comes like the arrival of a guest later in the evening.”

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  1. March 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Good read, very nice work. Good day Nonoy Manga

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