Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002) was an Armenian who emigrated to Canada as an adolescent and became a very accomplished, well known photographer. An exhibit of his works is at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC through April 27th, 2014. It consists of twenty-seven portraits. A second exhibit will be put up after this one concludes.
The exhibit includes the famous photograph of a staunch looking Winston Churchill taken during the Second World War. It is amusing to be informed by the annotation that Karsh grabbed Churchill’s cigar, so the staunchness against the Germans we see in his expression may merely be irritation with Karsh. To my mind, the most striking of the bunch is the photograph of Tennesee Williams in front of his typewiter. He comes across as a tough but alienated man. The photograph of industrial designer Russel Wright captures an easy elegance. The one of Frank Lloyd Wright was a bit suprising. I think of him (I am not sure why) as humorless, but the photograph shows an amused man.
The photographs all are quite attractive and some of them seem to me to capture character. I am not entirely sure all do. For example the photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe sitting and looking down with the skeletal head and antlers of, I think, a moose behind her is certainly memorable, even iconic, but does it actually penetrate to her character?. I suppose getting beyond seeming to being is difficult for a photographer when doing portraits. After all, he spends much less time with his subject than a portrait painter, I suppose. I came away from this enjoyable exhibit thinking motion pictures are often more revealing than staged photographs, in part because the camera has more time to probe but also because voice and movement can help reveal a person; but I also came away with a high regard for how much Karsh accomplished in his chosen artistic sphere.