Over the past several days I have been researching photographers for a project I am planning to begin work on over the next couple of weeks. I have been looking into portrait photography as a way of branching out since most of my past work has been in still-lives, architecture, and landscape and discovered two portrait photographers whose work I really enjoy. One that I discovered is a man named Yousuf Karsh. His photos are truly captivating. He brings his subjects to life, or rather displays the life of each subject, in his beautifully detailed photographs that are notable for their depth, detail, and dimensionality. Looking at these photos it seems that the subject could catch your eye and strike up a conversation – it is as if they are truly present in the room with the viewer. Two of my favorite Karsh portraits are the portraits of Albert Einstein and Fidel Castro.
This portrait of what Karsh calls a “simple, kindly, almost childlike man” is beautiful in its simplicity. This face has become an icon symbolizing a great mind and all its wonderful accomplishments, but Karsh’s photo shows more – the soft detail, the expression of peaceful wisdom, and the kindly gesture emphasize the human element to connect with the viewer. This is more than a picture: it is a character study.
This is without doubt one of the most arresting photographs I have ever seen. Most people know about Fidel Castro and his leadership of the Cuban government and the effect it has had on the history of our modern world, both socially and politically, but when I saw this photo there was a brief moment where I forgot to breathe. This man who, like Einstein, is an icon of sorts – almost more of a pop-culture reference than a person, at this point – was suddenly so intensely real and human that I was taken aback. Perhaps it is in part a result of my age, but I had never thought of Castro in that way before. His expression speaks to a fierce determination and confidence, despite the fact that Karsh states that Castro entered the room “looking grave and tired” and moved “with a weary gesture”. Regardless of how I have ever felt about his politics and leadership, this fascinating photo makes me want to know more about Castro the man than I ever wanted to know about Castro the political figure.
Yousuf Karsh is capable of what I will always strive for in my photographs – to show things as they are rather than how they “should” or are perceived to be. The truth contained in these images is astounding and the humanity of the subjects beautiful.
Photos: Yousuf Karsh