The Glenbow Museum in Calgary has a collection of Yousuf Karsh portraits on exhibit and I have been looking forward to visiting the museum for the last month. As luck would have it, the day I was planning to visit happened to fall on the one day the museum was screening the award-winning Joseph Hillel documentary Karsh is History and skyping in Jerry Fielder, assistant to Karsh for almost 30 years for a Q&A session. I am no art expert and although some of Karsh’s portraits were familiar, I didn’t have a clue about the man behind the camera. The film was such a good introduction to the acclaimed Armenian-Canadian portrait photographer and really shed light on his passion not only for what he did, but for life as a whole. He took the time to learn everything he could about his subjects before meeting them and tried to arrange for an intimate meeting the evening before so he could get to know them in a comfortable setting. He would absorb the subject’s mannerisms and during the next day’s session would know how to create an easy atmosphere where the subject was photographed in a relaxed and natural state. The film provided thoughts on portrait photography and Karsh’s work by Annie Leibovitz, former assistants, and photography scholars that were insightful along with some anecdotes (that I will not spoil here) that really brought an added depth to the portraits.
Sir Edmund Hillary
I don’t doubt that my perusal of the exhibit would have been enjoyable without viewing the film, but I’m really happy that I had the chance to see the film beforehand because it really added another dimension for me and the portraits are no longer just some great photographs of some great people. The number of amazing people he “Karshed” is incredible and the curator at the Glenbow has done a terrific job of compiling quotes from the photographer that accompany each portrait in the exhibit. Obviously, I strongly encourage you to head over to the museum to take it all in personally.
Karsh photo and portraits via www.karsh.org.