Yousuf Karsh

A few weeks ago I stumbled into one of the coolest photo exhibits I've seen at the Art Institute of Chicago. Yousuf Karsh was one of the most accomplished portrait photographers of the last century and this show was a major retrospective of some of his best works, all beautifully printed from the original 8 x 10 negatives. The show is over now so I won't go on about how incredible the prints were, but the catalog is a nice substitute and captures very well the detail of the originals.

Karsh took tons of iconic photos of important people. I'd seen a lot of these photos before but didn't put it together that he took them. All black and white taken with an 8 x 10 large format camera. Karsh adapted lighting techniques from the classic "film noir" look of cinema and usually used 12-15 lights on his subjects. Despite the formalness of using a large format camera and lots of lighting, the subjects all seem natural and at ease. He had a good sense for the decisive moment and knew when to release the shutter. I was surprised to see a photo of Sir Edmund Hillary in the show. I always thought the photo was taken somewhere on Everest but putting it in the context of the exhibit I realized he was in Karsh's studio with his big furry expedition coat on looking surprisingly cold for being under those studio lights.

The catalog is called Yosuf Karsh: Regarding Heroes. You can also do an image search on google if you're feeling thrifty.