Yousuf Karsh

Portraits by Yousuf Karsh

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Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002) Canadian photographer, known for portraits of the great personages of his time.

As an Armenian in Turkey, the young Karsh endured persecution and privation. At the age of 16 (in 1924) he emigrated to Canada, joining his uncle, who was a photographer in Sherbrooke, Que. From 1928 to 1931 he served as an apprentice to a prominent Boston painter and portrait photographer and briefly attended art school. Returning to Canada in 1932, he was employed by an Ottawa photographer, whose studio Karsh leased after his employer retired. He was appointed official portrait photographer of the Canadian government in 1935. He became a naturalized Canadian citizen in 1947.

Karsh's portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, made in Ottawa in 1941, brilliantly conveyed the dogged determination of Britain's wartime leader and brought Karsh his first real international fame. Karsh went on to photograph an enormous number of the world's most prominent personalities, including royalty, statesmen, artists, and writers. He also continued to make portraits of world leaders. Karsh's style as a portraitist was formal. He used subtle lighting to meticulously model his subjects' faces, thereby obtaining a monumental and idealized presentation that was in accord with their public image.

His books include Faces of Destiny (1946), Portraits of Greatness (1959), In Search of Greatness (1962), Karsh Portfolio (1967), Faces of Our Time (1971), Karsh Portraits (1976), Karsh Canadians (1978), Karsh: A Fifty-Year Retrospective (1983), Karsh: American Legends (1992), Karsh: A Sixty-Year Retrospective (1996), and Yousuf Karsh: Heroes of Light and Shadow (2001).

Modern reproductions of portraits

These high quality color and black and white prints were produced in Switzerland by Imprimerie Jean Genoud SA, Lausanne. They come from one of Yousuf Karsh art books. Usually, there is a short unrelated text or another portrait on the back side but it doesn't effect the main picture. Please refer to a description of the specific print for details. These prints are of poster quality or better.

Gravure prints

A gravure is a photomechanical intaglio process print, developed in the mid-19th Century, in which the image is transferred to the printing plate by using a light sensitized gelatin film surface on a metal plate which is then etched. The photogravure c an reproduce an original painting or photograph with an accuracy of detail and tonal depth unlikely to be surpassed in monochrome printing. The sheet-fed gravure method involves feeding each sheet individually through the printer, with printing only on one side of the page. This prevents one of the most common printing problems -- the show through of material from the other side of the page. In addition, Karsh and the publisher went to considerable length -- the use of a special soft ink and of specially produced (very heavy) paper -- to insure that the final print was as close an approximation of the original photograph as possible. The deep, velvety blacks and the low gloss finish provide a sense of texture that is totally lacking from most reproductions.

The magnificent portraits were produced by sheet-fed gravure, a printing process not presently used in North America for this type of work. The world-renowed printing house of Enschede in Haarlem, Holland, which has been turning out fine printing for more than two hundred and fifty years, was entrusted with making and reproduction of the gravure cylinders. The text was first printed by offset lithography on paper especially manufactured for this book in Paris. The gravure printing of the portraits followed. The results are as close to the quality of Yousuf Karsh's originals mat finish prints as has ever been obtained by any printing method A special thermoplastic binding used in gravure portfolio books allows for easy removing individual portraits for mounting and framing.

Gravure prints offered on this site come all from early portfolio books by Yousuf Karsh. They are 30 to 40+ years old. Some of these prints are very difficult to find in a good condition. Due to the soft ink they need to be handled with care. Archival matting and framing under glass is recomended.

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