The Armenian-Canadian Yousuf Karsh talks about the art of portrait photographer.
Yousuf Karsh has photographed royalty, popes, world leaders, actors, writers and artists. His most recent subject was American actress Kim Novak. On a one day visit to Ireland he explains how he approaches his subjects.
I try to photograph all that the person stands for... that is very difficult to explain. But if I can combine many moods into one photograph, consummation of what that personality stands for, then I have accomplished my aim.
He pays tribute to and acknowledges the role of the painter, but he feels that a photographer captures a more honest representation of their subject. He refers to a conversation he once had with George Bernard Shaw about this,
He felt that photographers, they have this element, this optics that comes between them and the subject that saves putting too much of themselves onto the photograph... Much depends on the preparation, the sincerity, and the dedication, and the intelligent approach of the artist, of the individual.
On the subject of preparation, Yousuf Karsh prepares as much as he can prior to meeting the person he will photograph, researching and reading about them. In the case of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, he listened to his music. So when he meets them, he feels as if he already knows them,
I’m not a total stranger, and at once there is something tangible that brings a rapport, brings an immediate meeting of minds.
Another challenge he faces is time, and often the lack of it. With Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle it was a case of minutes, but he was able to spend days with Eleanor Roosevelt and Nobel laureate Albert Schweitzer.
For a long time, Yousuf Karsh had hoped to photograph Helen Keller, who he says was his most rewarding subject. His meeting with the deaf-blind author, activist and lecturer left a lasting impression on him,
It was so emotionally moving that she placed her fingers up on your lips, and she more or less made a photographic picture of you in her mind.
This episode of ‘Broadsheet’ was broadcast on 5 June 1963. The reporter is John O’Donoghue.
'Broadsheet' was a magazine style, nightly review of people and events introduced by John O'Donoghue and presented by the Broadsheet Unit.