This book contained many pleasant surprises. I've been a long time fan of Karsh since he was a guest lecturer at Ohio University in 1966 and flattered me by asking to have copies of some of the candid photographs I'd taken of him interacting with the students of the O.U. Art School. I still have some of the nice notes he sent me on his specially made stationary (which is mentioned in the book) framed and hanging on the walls of my office.
The surprises in this "biography in images" were of several varieties. Some of his virtually unknown earlier work was fascinating. His early portrait of his mentor Boston Portrait Photographer John H. Garo was but one example. Two other surprising images were of nudes: one from 1935 and the other three nudes entitled "Elixir, 1938" were from his experiment in optics and Surrealism. Numerous self-portraits from his early career included "Self-portrait in garden ball, 1930" and a 1952 portrait with him holding up and examining an 11 X 14 inch glass negative. In the book, it's across from a beautiful 1963 loving portrait of his second wife Estrellita.
One of my new favorite Karsh photos is a 1953 circular pattern picture called "Quebec City: Nun on steps in convent." I'd never seen any other Karsh image like it before. "Calgary: Stampede 1953," which appears to be some kind of dusty rodeo scene is also totally unlike any other picture I've ever seen by the famous photographer. It reminded me of Bill Allard's classic cowboy photo coverage.
A stunning photo of a workman eating his lunch while sitting atop huge rolls of unrolled paper that was unrolling off the press is called "Great Lakes Paper Co.: Man Eating Lunch 1953." I rather suspected he workman wasn't really eating his lunch in that location where he might have ruined hundreds of feet of a 30- foot wide roll of paper by spilling his lunch on it. The subject certainly made a fascinating picture in any case.
I'd forgotten how much I liked Karsh's portraits of famous artists framed within some of their artworks. While I thought the cover shot of "Pablo Picasso 1954" appeared phony because of the artist's expression, which made it appear he was about to break out laughing at the silliness of the pose with it appearing the artist is punching himself in the chin, rather than resting his chin on his fist, the framing was still wonderful, as it was with all the other artist and many of the musician portraits. The more famous of his portraits hardly need amplification here, because they and their stories are well known. It's really the other not-so-famous photos that make this book interesting.
Having just read Karsh's earlier work, 'In Search of Greatness: Reflections of Yousuf Karsh", I was surprised to find most of the text in this new book lifted from that work--not that there was anything wrong with that because it was Karsh's writing, it just seemed odd. It became more interesting when it continued to cover his life after the earlier memoir had been published. Most people have probably not read the earlier, much longer, more detailed version of his life anyway, so it worked fine in this book as well.
This book, which was published by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, is a wonderful addition to anyone's reference library of Karsh work. It's interesting that Karsh returned to Boston after leaving it to set out on his own career path nearly 50 years before. It says much for the city and how much he appreciated his early experiences working there. He moved to Boston permanently in 1997 and he died in that city in 2002. Before his passing he donated the largest collection of finished Karsh exhibition prints to that institution (the MFA) although the majority of negatives and work prints from his 15,312 portrait sittings are part of the National Achieves of Canada. This biography is a winner because it has some new insights into Karsh's thinking and craft.