This Week In Photography Books – Yousuf Karsh

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s quiet right now. I can hear the soft hum of the refrigerator behind me. Outside, the cottonwood leaves are more than yellow. Mustard? Cheddar? Honey? Something like that.

The tips of those trees glance the tops of the Piñons that dot the rocky hill above them. (A skyline, from my vantage point.) Above the green, the sky is a confident blue, fading to powder as it bumps against the upward thrust of El Salto Peak, due East.

The light is always so three dimensional around here this time of year. I suppose that’s true many places in Autumn. Who doesn’t think their city or town or pasture the most beautiful in the world every October? (Hey Australians, does that mean April for you down there?)

Light and color. Mutual obsessions of mine, and for so many of you as well. Unless you’re a grayscale junkie. (Do you love the smell of fixer in the morning?) However we choose to make our work, I’d like to think most of us can appreciate a book of great photographs, no matter the subject, format, or style. Great is great, though terribly subjective.

“Karsh Beyond the Camera,” turned up in my book pile on the last visit to photo-eye. It’s a medium sized, soft-cover book, and really, it looks like a biography you’d find on the shelf at Borders. So unimposing. It’s like something your grandpa Morten would buy. Some biography of a general in World War II. Yes, that’s it. Churchill’s on the cover, for heaven’s sake.

Most of you would have heard of Yousuf Karsh, the Turkish-born, Armenian photographer who made his name in Canada. I had not. Opening up a book I thought would be mostly text, I was thrilled to find so many amazing, technically flawless images of so many important historical figures.

The lighting screams drama. It makes you think of old Hollywood movies. Orsen Welles, or Hitchcock. Moody, smoky, straight out of the 40’s and 50’s. Badass.

We see portraits of the aforementioned Churchill, plus Jack and Jackie Kennedy, Picasso, Khrushchev, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Edward Steichen, (twice) Truman, O’Keefe, Bogart, Castro, Frank Lloyd Wright. I could go on. When you photograph that much of history, inevitably you insert yourself.

Beyond the introduction, there are personal anecdotes that accompany each image, as well as recollections from Karsh’s long time studio assistant. I read a few, and they were amusing in the least. One message did pop out. Apparently, one secret to his success was an insistence on being polite, friendly, well-dressed, and entirely focused on the person he was meant to photograph. Great advice, no?

Bottom line: A chunk of history in an unimposing package

To purchase “Karsh Beyond the Camera” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


There Are 19 Comments On This Article.

  1. For photographers of a certain age Karsh along with Arnold Newman were the gold standard of portraiture. Elegant, impeccable, precise, tremendously influential for me and my contemporaries.

  2. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Mr. Karsh once at a photo conference, and he was indeed polite, impeccably dressed and incredibly friendly. In our less than five minute encounter he made me feel like the most important person he had ever met.

  3. Ada Goodwin

    Another book for the collection.
    Good tips too:
    Polite ✓
    Friendly ✓
    Well-dressed ✓

  4. Alistair Kerr

    Thanks for posting this I’ve just put my order in, who can resist the work of this man.

  5. A photographers photographer! Incredible work! I remember seeing shots of an Ad campaign he did for Hagen Das Ice cream using a male and female model. The lighting was amazing and the shots so sensual, I wondered how they kept the ice cream from melting, and not from the lights…

  6. ” In our less than five minute encounter he made me feel like the most important person he had ever met.”

    It reminds me of something that Dan Winters said, “I have a friend who said to me one time ‘people aren’t going to remember the things you do, do they’re going to remember how you make them feel.’ And I’ve always tried to adhere to that”.

    Its a talent that I wish I had more of.

  7. Yousuf Karsh’s as well as George Hurrell’s portraits, blew me away the first time I saw them many years ago. The dark moody & hard dramatic light is fantastic and a great inspiration even today.

  8. I think Karsh’s use of canvass backgrounds is interesting. Using them to create a vertical line behind the subject, or framing them behind doorways. His portrait of John Wooden in the book, Karsh American Legends is a good example of his background technique.