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Icons in Focus: Portraitist Yousuf Karsh

Winston Churchill stood before the lens of this photographer and the image of the world-renowned “Roaring Lion” was born. Renowned portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh’s signature style brought out characters of people into portraits he shot.

Neither persecution nor widespread famine in his home country of Armenia could prevent Yousuf Karsh from being the acclaimed portraitist that he was meant to be. Karsh was the creator of some of the most iconic portraits of the world’s most influential people. His keen eye and specific attention to lighting brought his portrait photographs to life.

Photo via Smithsonian Mag

Yousuf Karsh (December 23, 1908 – July, 13, 2002) was one of the most accomplished photographers of his time. Karsh’s work stood out in portrait photography with his distinct use of artificial light. Karsh would experiment with lights in his studio to give his images a dramatic effect.

Photo via Smithsonian Mag,

He shot countless portraits of prominent figures from all over the world but his image of the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was the most iconic portrait he took. Apparently, the photographer snatched the cigar from the Bulldog’s lips right before he took the iconic photo. Churchill’s scowl in the fittingly titled “The Roaring Lion” photograph was the result of Karsh’s action. The photographer recalls that specific moment in an interview:

“By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent he could have devoured me.The silence was deafening. Then Mr Churchill, smiling benignly, said, ‘You may take another one.’ He walked toward me, shook my hand and said, ‘You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.’”

Yousuf Karsh’s skill in portrait photography was second to none. His enduring portraits of the world’s most iconic men and women are a testament to that. Estrellita Karsh, the wife of the late photographer presented 109 portraits to the National Portrait Gallery in 2012 to share his husband’s contribution to portrait photography. Some of Karsh’s selected monochrome portraits are now on display at the Smithsonian Museum until November 4, 2014.

All information and photos used in this article were sourced from Smithsonian Mag, 121 Clicks and

Like this article? Check out the Icons in Focus and Today in History series in the Lomography magazine!

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Yousuf Karsh: Portrait Photographer Extraordinaire

written by cheeo

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