Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh / Photographer / the work / portraits

“… More and more often now, I am asked whether I think there are as many great men and women to photograph today as in the past — whether the strengths of a Churchill or an Einstein can be found today in this era of antiheroes. When my portrait of Churchill in 1941 opened the door to the world for me and started me on my search for greatness, I had a legacy of half a century to draw upon. During the war, in one brief period in England alone, I photo-graphed forty-two leaders of international stature; and later in Washington, a similar number. After the war, there were still many personalities whose reputations extended back for decades. A Sibelius, a Helen Keller, a Schweitzer, a Casals are of enduring stature. But I believe the past has no claim on greatness, for such arresting personalities are always among us. Nor can we yet judge what lessons remain to be learned from the young. I know only that my quest continues.

The endless fascination of these people for me lies in what I call their inward power. It is part of the elusive secret that hides in everyone, and it has been my life’s work to try to capture it on film. The mask we present to others and, too often, to ourselves may lift for only a second—to reveal that power in an unconscious gesture, a raised brow, a surprised response, a moment of repose. This is the moment to record.

To my deep satisfaction, through my photographs many people have been introduced to some of the outstanding personalities of our time and, I hope, have been given a more intimate glimpse of and greater insight into them.

My own quest now has stretched for over half a lifetime. The search for greatness of spirit has compelled me to work harder — to strive for perfection, knowing it to be unattainable. My quest has brought me great joy when something close to my ideal has been attained. It has kept me young in heart, adventurous, forever seeking, and always aware that the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera. “ ~ Yousuf Karsh


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