Yousuf Karsh, Photographer

Yousuf Karsh, Photographer

Yousuf Karsh was a renowned portrait photographer whose talent and unique style gained him access to some of the most famous leaders and personalities of the 20th century.


He was born in 1908 in Mardin, Western Armenia during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. He experienced the Armenian Genocide, saying “I saw relatives massacred; my sister died of starvation as we were driven from village to village.” His family sent him to Canada, where he stayed with his uncle, and he spent the rest of his life in Ottawa. His uncle gave him his first camera and took him to be the apprentice of another Armenian photographer, John H Garo. There, he refined his craft before setting out on his own.

Claim to fame

Portraits of Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Mother Teresa, Walt Disney, Audrey Hepburn, Muhammad Ali, Fidel Castro and Dwight Eisenhower, among many others. He also published several books of his portraits.

What he said

“I am working with the most wonderful cross-section of people.”

“There is a brief moment when all there is in a man’s mind and soul and spirit is reflected through his eyes, his hands, his attitude. This is the moment to record.”

What others said

“One of the greatest portrait photographers of the twentieth century…” –Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Mr. Karsh was a master of the formally posed, carefully lighted studio portrait.” –New York Times

“Yousuf Karsh, in his powerful portraits, transforms the human face into legend.” –Peter Pollack in “Picture History of Photography”

“You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.” – Winston Churchill

Noteworthy work