Sunday, November 24, 2013
Yousuf Karsh: American Portraits, Part I
When: through April 27, 2014
The Portrait Gallery is really on a roll lately. This is the second excellent show I've seen there in just the last couple of weeks. I blogged earlier about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition (if you've not seen that, I highly recommend it); this entry is about the first of two exhibits of Yousuf Karsh photographs.
Yousuf Karsh was born in Armenia and fled from that country's genocide to settle in Canada. He apprenticed with a Boston photographer, John H. Garo, after his uncle saw great promise in his abilities with a camera. He returned to Canada after his apprenticeship, determined to photograph "men and women who leave their mark on the world." His big break was photographing Winston Churchill on a visit to Canada. The bulldog expression became the iconic representation of Britain's determination to defeat the Nazis.
Each of the photographs on display is interesting, both for the great photography and for the subject matter. They are each a marriage of style and substance. Even though almost all of them are in black and white, I didn't miss the color, and if you've read this blog for any length of time, you know what a statement that is.
Perhaps my favorite of the pieces on display is one of Franklin Roosevelt with his son James and two Canadian government ministers. It's an outdoor shot which is atypical of Karsh, and the story goes that everyone was posed very stiffly for the picture. After it was over, the men relaxed, and that is the shot that Karsh took. The thing I noticed is that you have to look carefully to see the President being supported by his son; his hand on James' arm is just visible.
Karsh died in 2002, and in 2012, his widow donated 109 of his portraits to the National Portrait Gallery. Happily, there is another Karsh display that will go up in May and run through November. I'm eagerly awaiting that show now.
Verdict: If you are at all interested in photography or 20th century American history and culture, do not miss this very fine show.