September 19, 2010

Faces by Yousuf Karsh

A portfolio of images by the great 20th-century portrait photographer is on display in Thomaston.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

THOMASTON - For Yousuf Karsh, the first image of North America came from the uncomfortable confines of a crowded ocean liner.

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Karsh photographed Albert Einstein in 1948.

Image courtesy of Haynes Galleries

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Yousef Karsh's portrait of artist Georgia O'Keeffe

Image courtesy of Haynes Galleries

Additional Photos Below


THE YOUSUF KARSH portraits at Haynes Galleries in Thomaston herald the arrival of several high-profile photography exhibitions in Maine.

ON SEPT. 30, the Portland Museum of Art opens a show that focuses on the accomplishments of Group f/64, a California photography group that took its name from the camera aperture that produces depth of field and sharp focus.

IN ROCKPORT, the Center for Maine Contemporary Arts mounts "Photographing Maine: Ten Years Later, 2000-2009," a broad survey show curated by Bruce Brown that follows up CMCA's landmark 2000 exhibition, "Photographing Maine: 1840-2000." The new show, featuring 150 contemporary Maine photographers, opens Oct. 2 and continues through Dec. 5.

AND THROUGH DECEMBER, the Farnsworth Art Museum is showing Arnold Newman Prize winner Emily Shiffer's documentary work "Youth on the Cheyenne River Reservation" in South Dakota.

- Bob Keyes



WHERE: Haynes Galleries, 91 Main St., Thomaston

WHEN: Through Oct. 23

INFORMATION: 354-0605;

The year was 1925, and he was a 17-year-old Armenian refugee arriving on a winter day at the frozen docks of Halifax. He had limited language skills, but with the help of an uncle, he managed to make a life in Quebec.

Uncle Nakash worked as a photographer, and took his nephew under his wing. He gave Karsh his first camera and sent him out into the world to learn and explore through the lens.

Karsh, who died in 2002 in Boston, became a famous photographer, excelling in the field of black-and-white portraiture. His best-known portrait is of Winston Churchill, taken in 1941 when the British prime minister visited Ottawa.

The portrait -- a pugnacious Churchill scowling at the camera, one hand tucked on his hip -- appeared on the cover of Life magazine, became one of the most widely produced images in the history of photography, and made Karsh famous.

With that image -- and hundreds of others of 20th-century cultural titans such as Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost and Muhammad Ali -- Karsh distinguished himself for capturing the essence of his subject.

With his influence, he evolved portrait photography from a technical pursuit into something entirely artistic.

A portfolio of 15 silver gelatin prints, most measuring 20 by 24 inches and including the Churchill portrait, is on view at the newly opened Haynes Gallery in Thomaston, which operates in a restored 19th-century, Federal-style ship captain's home on Main Street.

Karsh printed this portfolio in 1981, and all prints are signed and numbered.

Gallery owner Gary Haynes bought the Karsh portfolio a few years ago after it had been in the collection of a major U.S. bank. He is offering the portfolio for sale as part of this exhibition. Priced individually, the portraits range from $10,000 for a 1948 portrait of Albert Einstein to $25,000 for the Churchill.

"I bought them to sell them," said Haynes, who collects and sells mostly American realism paintings.


The Karsh portraits are significant because of the stature of the subjects and the inventiveness of the photographer. Karsh got his start as an apprentice to his uncle. He showed promise and commitment, and his uncle arranged for Karsh to travel to Boston in the late 1920s to work and study with the portrait photographer John H. Garo, who also happened to be Armenian.

Garo helped form many of the technical foundations of Karsh's development, and also introduced him to classical learning. Karsh thrived in Garo's company, which included the leading intellectuals and cultural contributors of the Boston scene.

Karsh was on his way. He spent three years with Garo, then returned to Canada to open his own commercial studio in Ottawa.

Among those who visited the studio in Ottawa in the early 1930s were Dr. Rupert and Estelle Esdale, a local couple. Karsh shot a series of portraits, including single poses by Estelle.

The Esdale's daughter, Gay Schueler, spends her summers in Camden. When she learned about the show at the Haynes Gallery, she took the photo of her mom off the wall and brought it down to the gallery. Haynes immediately asked if he could include it in the show.

The Esdale portrait sits on a mantel in the gallery, just below Hemingway.

"She would be thrilled to be on view with all the greats of the 20th century," Schueler said, noting that her mother shares wall space with Georgia O'Keeffe, Pablo Picasso and George Bernard Shaw.

In an autobiography, Karsh readily acknowledges the impact of the Churchill photo.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Karsh photographed many of the most important figures of the 20th century, including Ernest Hemingway.

Yousuf Karsh photo

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Karsh's much-reproduced portrait of Winston Churchill

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"Frogs and Pads" by Andy Graham, from the upcoming show in Rockport

Andy Graham photo

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