Photographs by Yousuf Karsh. Edited by David Travis
David R Godine, Boston, 2009. Hardbound. 192 pp., Illustrated throughout, ".
Regarding Heroes Photographs by Yousuf Karsh. Edited by David Travis Published by David R Godine, 2009.
“Yousuf Karsh: Regarding Heroes,” is the gorgeous volume that was created to accompany the exhibition celebrating the centenary of the birth of one of photography’s greatest portraitists.
David Travis, the former curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, drew the exhibition’s selection of 100 photos from a collection of 200 master prints given to the museum by Karsh’s widow, Estrellita. He also authored the well-written text, which does an excellent job of exploring Karsh’s artistic process, as well as placing him in the context of his peers’ work and in the canon of photo portraiture.
The selection is a stunning who’s who of the twentieth century, including the famous “roaring lion” portrait of Winston Churchill made in 1941, which launched Karsh’s career. Included here, too, are his portraits of Marian Anderson, Audrey Hepburn, Albert Schweitzer, Georgia O’Keefe, Muhammad Ali, Andy Warhol, Jacques Cousteau, Fidel Castro, a very young Queen Elizabeth II and an equally young Indira Gandhi.
There’s a timelessness to Karsh’s work, which at the same time evokes the feeling of a time long gone; it’s hard to imagine any photo editor today publishing celebrity portraits filled with such dignity and quiet intimacy. No gimmicks here. No one floating in a bathtub filled with milk, or striking a semi-clad pose. But one can’t help but feel that Karsh’s work is by far the more revealing of a subject’s true personality. He was legendary for the respect he brought to his subjects, and for the trust they in turn gave him. There was more to it than that, however; there was, as Travis writes in his essay: “…his old-fashioned belief that goodness remains a virtue essential not only to making portraits substantial and enduring but also to making life worth living.”
Old-fashioned, perhaps. But definitely worth considering.
Sara Terry A former staff correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and magazine freelance writer, Sara Terry made a mid-career transition into documentary photography in the late 1990s. Her long-term project about the aftermath of war in Bosnia -- “Aftermath: Bosnia’s Long Road to Peace” -- was published in September 2005 by Channel Photographics, and was named as one of the best photo books of the year by Photo District News. Her work has been widely exhibited, at such venues as the United Nations, the Museum of Photography in Antwerp, and the Moving Walls exhibition at the Open Society Institute. She is the founder of The Aftermath Project (www.theaftermathproject.org), a non-profit grant program which helps photographers cover the aftermath of conflict. She is currently directing and producing "Fambul Tok," a documentary about a post-conflict forgiveness and reconciliation program in Sierra Leone, which recently won a grant from the Sundance Documentary Institute.