Yousuf Karsh


Yousuf Karsh is one of the renowned photographers who have contributed to the historical development. He has done a lot of work in his career and has made history interesting. Yousuf sacrificed his life and was ready to die and let the world know the importance of peace. His photos are used in almost all peace and war studies. He was ready to die and live the legacy for the future generation to see and be warned against actions that can lead to violence. Yousuf was born in 1908 and died in 2002. He discovered his interest in photography when he was young. He used to take his uncle’s camera and take photos of people and nature. He loved peace and would always ensure that his conflicting friends do not fight.

Yousuf believed that violence is not justified. He witnessed the Armenian genocide which referred by many as the most heinous genocide in the world. People killed each other and did a lot of inhuman actions against each other. Yousuf witnessed many of his relatives being murder during the genocide. He was lucky to survive such a time where no one had mercy upon each other. He explained how his sister starved to death after they were driven to a village and there was no food. He had no means to assist his sister and hated the incidence. In fact, he felt guilty that such a thing happened in his presence. He went through a lot of pain and torture that made him realize the importance of peace in the world. He could do everything possible to ensure that peace prevailed in all parts of the world. This paper examines the life of Yousuf Karsh as a famous photographer in history.


Life and Work

Yousuf was born in Mardin. This was a city located in the eastern part of the Ottoman Empire which is in the present-day Turkey. When he attained the age of sixteen, his parents sent him to stay with his uncle. His uncle’s name was George Nakash. He lived in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. The uncle had a studio. He was a photographer and earned a living using his camera. Yousuf was still young. As a result of the conflicts and killings that he had experienced, he had not gotten a chance to know what he wanted. However, the visit to his uncle made him realize that he had a lot of interest in the camera. He decided that he would become a photographer so that he could change the lives of the remaining people from his country. He wanted a career that would enlighten him on the importance of peace and how to maintain it. Yousuf knew that he could change the world if he had the necessary knowledge. Therefore, he wanted to do something related to his interests. He attended school briefly and helped his uncle after school to run the studio. When Yousuf‘s uncle realized his interest and the potential he had, he decided to mentor the young man. This was a great opportunity for him to develop and become the person he wanted in life. The uncle connected him to a portrait photographer named John Garo. Garo was an experienced photographer who lived in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. Yousuf had to go to America to stay with Garo so that he could learn more about portrait photography. He worked hard showing his interest in the career. Garo liked how Karsh Yousuf worked. He bought him a good camera that he would use in the next few years of his career. After four years, Yousuf wanted to go back to Canada. He believed that he should go home so that he could assist the remaining members of his family.

Using the knowledge that he had learned from Garo, Yousuf could work with any photographer. His interest was too much that it was recognized easily. In 1931, a famous photographer known as John Powls realized his talent. He approached him, and the two started working together. John Powls believed that Yousuf would change the world and make history. Therefore, he went with him everywhere he was invited so as he could get a chance to do what he did best. John Powls had a studio in Ottawa next to the Parliament Hill. The two worked together on many occasions and gained fame. Powls was comfortable with the work that Yousuf was doing. In fact, he was ready to retire and leave him with the studio. Yousuf retired in 1933. He left Yousuf to be in charge of the studio. He knew that Yousuf would not fail the studio as he was hardworking and courageous enough to take over from him.

In 1936, Karsh Yousuf undertook the first exhibition alone. He was confident that he would make it alone since he had done it many times with Powls. Therefore, he confronted the assignment with the necessary courage. It took place in Château Laurier hotel at the Drawing Room. Fortunately, the event was a success. Every person was comfortable with how Karsh conducted his activity. He decided to move the studio to that hotel as he found it a good business area. The studio remained there throughout his work. He was only ready to allow someone to remove it from there after his retirement.

Karsh’s work caught the attention of Mackenzie King. He was the Canadian Prime Minister who loved photos. The Prime Minister requested Karsh to be taking portrait photos of him and his friends and dignitaries whenever they came to his office. Karsh had already become a famous and rich man in the country. The politicians would not conduct their rallies without his presence. He became of the best photographers especially because the Prime Minister wanted him in all his occasions. Apart from politicians, celebrities such as musicians and comedians started following him. They wanted him to take photos of them when performing. in 1941, December 30, Karsh had an opportunity to cover the important ceremony in at the Canadian House of Commons. Wisnton Churchill had been invited in Ottawa to give a speech. Karsh took a photo of Churchill, and that increased his fame.

Churchill’s portrait gave Karsh an international fame. Every person that visited Canada wanted to meet Karsh so that he would take a portrait photograph. He became famous and rich. It was interesting that he could reach the international levels that easily. Churchill’s portrait became the most known portrait in the history. As a result, Karsh was given a job by the government. He was given a position in the security department in 1967. In 1990, Karsh was promoted from an officer to a Companion in the same docket. A genocide survivor had become a famous person in the government because of the photography.

Karsh is on the list if the one hundred most renown people in the world. He was the only Canadian in that list of the few famous. He was a humble man who would do anything to produce quality work. He was composed and worked extremely hard to avoid failure. In 1990, Karsh decided to go to Boston. He had done a lot of work in Canada and was an old man. He died in 2002 after surgery complications. However, he had fought a good battle and won many awards. It was time for him to rest, but his legacy remains.

Karsh was famous during the World War II. He took the Churchill Portrait in the early years of the war. During this time, everything that leaders said was important and had great impacts on the lives of the people. The entire world had opened eyes to the leaders to see and learn what they would say on every occasion. In this case, the portrait that Karsh took was so important. He covered a function that everyone else would have liked to cover in such a time. There was unrest in the entire world. There was no certainty in anything. Suspicion filled the world as people did not know when the enemy would strike. However, Karsh did not fear. He knew that he had a call and it had to be fulfilled. He wanted to take photos that would be seen in the future. He believed that someone had to stand in the gap so as the future generation would understand what happened when they were not born.

To make his work easy to store, Karsh put his photos in fifteen books. He organized them in a professional way so that they will be used in the future. As the photographer, he knew where and when he had taken the photos. Therefore, it was the best idea for him to record his work professionally. Historians use the books for references. Karsh had taken portraits of the most famous people who lived in his era. He had a chance to interact with leaders during the war century. The fact that he had lost relatives and friends to the Armenian genocide increased his interest in politics. He wanted to ensure that he is present in such meetings so that he could sense war before it started. Fortunately, the war did not injure his body. He was lucky to attend meetings where there was enough security.

Some of the leaders were so tough and untouchable. However, Karsh had a way of soothing them to take photos. They are the reason why the entire world was fighting. It was the ideology of a few people that made so many innocent people to lose their lives. In fact, Karsh named one of the photos as “The Roaring Lion.” Karsh was communicating to the world that even the lion can be calmed down if the right tactics are used. In this photo, Karsh had a hidden message. He believed that the world would be peaceful if those who hate war did what they are supposed to do. They can confront the lions and convince them to resolve their conflicts amicably.

Yousuf Karsh is one of the most honored artists and photographers not only in Canada but also in all parts of the world. In 2009, the Festival Karsh was used to celebrate his work and life. The Portrait Gallery of Canada and the Canada Museum of Science and Technology collaborated to celebrate what Karsh had done in his life. They praised him and made the world remember him for his contribution to history. The government also made him an associate in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He had done a lot of work that should not go unnoticed. Even if most of the recognitions are done after his death, they are still relevant. To give him another honor, the Canada Post celebrated his 100th birthday anniversary. They presented three of his most famous portraits to the world with three stamps that have his image.

There are many artists who borrowed their artistic styles from the works of Yousuf Karsh. He had exceptional skills and talents that made his work perfect. The artists honor him and recognize him in their work. The international community agreed to recognize Karsh’s work in 2005. One of the craters in planet Mercury was named after him. It is internationally accepted that such features that belong to the entire world can only be named after international figures. Yousuf Karsh is one of them, and that is why that happened.


In conclusion, Yousuf Karsh is a famous Canadian photographer who has contributed greatly to history. He committed his life to photography. He has taken many photos with public figures, celebrities and politicians from different parts of the world. He was selfless enough to sacrifice his life to the world. He has taken photos in rare scenes such as the Churchill portrait. He has won many awards because of his quality and exceptional work. Karsh continues to win awards and recognition even after his death because of his good work. He believes that it is possible to influence the world with what one can do best. Commitment, hard work, and courage are the tools he has used throughout his life. He will be remembered throughout history because of his photography. He wrote many books to ensure his work is in order, and to help the future generation find his photos easily.

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