In this book Yousuf Karsh, whose great photographic portraits have revealed so vividly the outstanding personalities of our time, writes about his own life and work. It is the story of an Armenian immigrant boy who rose to be the world’s finest portrait photographer, whose pictures, reproduced in newspapers, magazines, and books, and shown in museums, art galleries and exhibitions, have been admired by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.
Of his early years in Armenia, Karsh gives a brief but compelling account, writing without bitterness but not sparing the reader the impact on his youthful mind of the brutalities, massacres, and atrocities of that time. The dramatic impression made on him by his first experiences as a young citizen of Sherbrooke, Quebec. His several years of study in Boston with the famous photographer, Garo, show the gradual development of his ideas and skills in portraiture. In 1932, Karsh opened his own studio in Ottawa, capital city of Canada, and there he met Solange Gauthier, the volatile, charming, and practical Frenchwoman whom he married. Together they established his world-wide reputation.
Karsh takes the reader with him to his sittings, and shows how he seeks to bring out the essence of the personalities he is portraying. The reader accompanies Karsh and Madam Karsh as they travel to Washington, New York, Hollywood, across Canada and to the Arctic, and on their European tours, photographing and interviewing statesmen, tycoons, artists, actors, musicians, popes, presidents, and kings. At Karsh’s side, the reader hears Churchill’s lion roar, the wit of Bernard Shaw, the bark of John L. Lewis, the profound accents of Einstein. He observes the grave serenity of Sibelius, and hears the noble ‘cello of Casals. He shares in the problems and disappointments of securing adequate reproduction of the portraits in book form, and in the artist’s gratification when Portraits of Greatness, printed by the finest gravure for the University of Toronto Press, appeared in 1959 and the magnificent volume became an immediate best-seller.
Yousuf’s profession has led him into the high places of the world, and this book is enriched by his twenty years of observation of the celebrities he has encountered. These are the experiences of a distinguished artist, a gifted raconteur, and a delightful human being.