Hello Photoion students and photography fans, it’s time for another entry in our Masters of Photography series; a collection of blogs looking at some of the most important figures in photography and what makes them so special. Today we’re looking at a particularly important photographer who has produced some of the most iconic portraits in history.

We are, of course, looking at Yousuf Karsh!

Born in the former Ottoman Empire in 1908, Karsh grew up during the Armenian Genocide and watched many members of his family die, including his sister, whom he said “died of starvation as we were driven from village to village.”

Shortly after the Genoice, at age 16, Karsh’s parents sent him to Canada to live with his uncle, George Nakash, who was a photographer. It wasn’t long before Karsh himself picked up the camera, and his uncle saw the potential that he had. So much so that in 1928 he sent him to Boston, Massachusetts to apprentice under John Garo.

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Photography became a huge part of Karsh’s life, and a few years after returning to Canada, his work was noticed by the Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, who commissioned Karsh to capture a series of portraits of visiting dignitaries.

Winston Churchill by Yousuf Karsh
Among these portraits, is the image of Winston Churchill, taken shortly after his speed to the Canadian House of Commons. This image is one of the most iconic pictures of the 20th century.

Iconic is really the best word to describe Karsh’s work, because the famous Churchill image was far from his only stand out piece that became known the world over during the 20th century.

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Among Karsh’s most notable subjects are Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Mohammad Ali, Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, General Dwight Eisenhower, and Fidel Castro.

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Karsh’s black and white images created beautiful contrast that really highlighted his subject. He was a master of studio lighting, and knew exactly where to place his lights to produce the best results. He would often light the subject’s hands separately to create a secondary point of interest within the frame, and would often have his subjects holding their hands together.

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There are few photographers in history who can boast such a robust and influential list of subjects as Karsh. Of the 100 most notable people of the century published by the International Who’s Who in 2002, Karsh had captured 51 with his lens.

(c) Yousuf Karsh

From star of the silver screen, to world leaders, almost anyone of note from the 20th century ended up in front of Karsh’s lens, which is why he is one of our undisputed Masters of Photography!