Friday, 29 April 2016

Foto Inspiration Friday - Yousuf Karsh

Welcome to 'Foto Inspiration Friday', the series in which I not only use a rarely used alternate spelling of photo for the sake of alliteration, but I share with you anything and everything I find inspirational, be it a person, an image, a song, a quote, a place, a pizza...ok, maybe not a pizza but you get the point. The focus of this weeks 'Foto Inspiration Friday' is Yousuf Karsh.

Even if you don't know the name, chances are you know Karsh's work...or more specifically this image...



Karsh, born in the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) had a rough time of it as a child...like seriously rough. He grew up during the Armenian Genocide where he witnessed relatives killed, and saw his sister die of starvation as his family were driven from village to village.

When he was 16 life improved for Karsh when he was sent by his parents to live with his uncle in Canada. Whilst in Canada Karsh assisted his uncle in his photography studio before taking an apprenticeship with photographer John Garo in Boston, Massachusetts. After his apprenticeship Karsh moved back to Canada where he practiced his craft, was noticed by the right people, and his career sky rocketed...eventually. Karsh is reported to have stated that the above image is what launched his career, the image he took some 15 years after starting in photography.

Karsh's images have a natural look to them, I can't recall any looking overtly staged like a school portrait. To achieve this Karsh had a way with his subjects of getting the best out of them, a way of putting them at ease...he'd study them. He'd find out as much as he could about them before the shoot, that way he could keep a natural, relaxed conversation going, making them lower their guard during the shoot. Another of his methods for this natural look was 'stealth shooting'. When I say 'stealth shooting' I don't mean he hid under a tarp the tip of the lens just peering out, I mean he'd ready the cameras settings then leave it alone, releasing the shutter slyly when he saw moments of real emotion.

Somewhat oddly considering how prepared he was in regards to knowing the subject, Karsh was not a fan of preconceived poses, props etc for his shoots. He would see what developed from his interactions, as well as drawing inspiration from their appearance and personality on the day.

Karsh was a big proponent of using light not just as a source of illumination, but rather part of the scene itself. He knew that used in the right way lighting could affect the impact an image had.

I think the majority of us photographers could learn something from Karsh. Be it the way he interacted with his subjects, the way he prepared for a shoot, his use of lighting...there are many things we can learn from him.

I'll leave you with this Karsh anecdote, because it amuses me. That image of Churchill up at the top...seconds before it was taken Churchill had a cigar in his mouth, as he often did. Karsh had tried to subtly suggest that Churchill not have the cigar, when this failed Karsh said to Churchill "forgive me sir", plucked his cigar out of his mouth, and snapped the picture.

I highly suggest you head over and check it out Karsh.org and see more of the talented man's work.

Ian
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