Yousuf Karsh

Yes that’s right. When I’m not taking pictures, or thinking about pictures, I’m reading about pictures. Obsessive? No. I’m also a cyclist. Which means I’m well-rounded, right? (But not too well-rounded, which is why I cycle…)

So I’m reading Karsh: A Fifty Year Retrospective, which I got from the library. Most books are judged ‘good’ when you can’t put them down. But remember, a picture is worth a thousand or so words and all that. So with books on photographers, I’m sometimes overwhelmed with the images. I have to put the book down, so I can fully absorb what I’ve seen, before proceeding to the next set of images. Such is the case with this book.

Mind you, there are images where I’m yelling a loud mental WTF??! Like for example his portrait of Margaret Thatcher. He has her very small, at the bottom of the photo, with a large window dominating most of the shot. It’s almost insulting, to have the leader of the free world looking so forlorn and small in a portrait. [What’s that? The United Kingdom isn’t the leader of the free world? When did that change??]

And he has (had) and annoying tendency to place his subject smack dab (a photographic technical term) in the middle of the frame. Bull’s Eye! cry the photographers. Not all the time, mind you, but distressingly often for a ‘best of’ book.

But then you see a picture of Ernest Hemingway. Never mind the pictures of Winston Churchill that made him famous. There are the images of Nikita Khrushchev, Jacqueline and John F Kennedy, Fidel Castro and lesser luminaries. But it’s not just a matter of celebrity. He really does capture an essence of a person. While I’m sure I’m seeing only the 1% that mattered, it’s a heck of a 1%!

Everyone has something that will stop them in their tracks. For me, this is one of those somethings. How many books have you read that make you want to reinvent yourself?

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