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  • Gary Crallé

Portraits by Karsh at Pier 21

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

As a poor Armenian immigrant in 1923, Yousuf Karsh received the usual discriminatory treatment meted out to strangers, but through persistence went on to achieve greatness. An exhibit of his photography now showing at Pier 21, Canada’s Museum of Immigration in Halifax, seems fitting as a matter of personal achievement and national pride.

For much of his career Karsh worked in an era that was more formal, less competitive yet physically demanding and requiring a technical expertise that could be achieved only from long, arduous experimentation. So in various ways it was both more and less difficult than the present.

Our modern casual lifestyle and ease of digital imaging now make a number of Karsh portraits seem stilted by comparison. But we should note he was a pioneer finding his way when photography was still fairly young. He worked hard to perfect a certain recognizable style.

As his style and reputation grew, so did his clientele. What remains unique was his calculated and unparalleled access to well-known figures which became a domino effect as world leaders sought to be ‘Karshed’ into history.

The current 100-print+ exhibit reveals the circumstances, thoughts and conversations surrounding many of these portrait sessions. Who doesn’t want to know what went on behind the scene?

The cavernous gallery displays the work of Karsh with exquisite large prints and explanatory text. My only suggestion would be the addition of background music from some of his subjects such as Marion Anderson, Pablo Casal and Ravi Shankar.

The exhibition runs until October 16, 2022.

Photos and text

© Gary Crallé 2022

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