Monday, March 16, 2009

Shifting Through the Shadows

By Jennifer Sullivan

Marking the century of photographer, Yousuf Karsh’s birth, the Art Institute of Chicago is holding an exhibit in his honor. From January 22nd until April 26th, Karsh’s “Regarding Heroes” exhibit will be on display featuring one hundred and three black and white photographs. Karsh’s last exhibition in Chicago was in 1952.

From poet Robert Frost, to actress Joan Crawford, from genius Albert Einstein to famous politicians like the Kennedys to Queen Elizabeth, Karsh photographed some of the most influential figures of the 20th century.

The Art Institute’s former art curator, David Travis, ended his thirty-four year career with this exhibit. Travis said that as a former photographer, it was important for him to display Karsh’s work because he admired his ability to seek goodness, beauty, and truth in people. He said that Karsh believed, “There were hero’s that were going to make the world a better place.” Speaking to Travis was like talking to Karsh himself. He knew the most intimate details of Karsh’s life and was replete with fascinating facts.

Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago

“He got people to drop the kind of facial expression they always walked around with. What photographers call the mask,” Travis said. Although, Karsh was more lenient about looking natural when it come to photographing Hollywood movie stars. Ingrid Bergman’s is one of the few photographs that look posed and forced. But because these women were concerned with capturing their outer beauty rather than their personality, Karsh allowed them to have a say in how they posed.

As Travis discussed the various photographs, he stopped at a portrait of Norman Rockwell and pointed to the tiny pieces of paper, scattered on the floor of artist’s studio. As Karsh tried to capture the perfect picture of Rockwell, Rockwell was busy scribbling sketches of Karsh and discarding them on the floor. From one artist to another, this photograph captures the ingenious
sharing of creativity.

DePaul University Art History Professor, Mark Pohlad, who took his freshman photography class to study the works, said his students were drawn to the photographs pertaining to sexuality. One of Karsh’s most famous provocative subjects was Bridgitte Bardot who seduces all who pass her photograph with her exposed brassiere and sexually shaped almond eyes.

Judy Poger, who traveled all the way from Detroit to see the exhibit, said she was, “Intrigued and awed by his skill.”

The photograph, which launched Karsh to fame, was a portrait of Prime Minister Winston Churchill entitled, “The Roaring Lion.” Capturing Churchill’s ferocity and charisma, this picture became the symbol of British resistance during WWII.

Using only natural lighting as a technique, Karsh was able to expose a person’s true personality and character through the shadows of black and white.

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