The Churchill Portrait
|Picture Taken On:
30 December, 1941 after a speech given to the Canadian House of Commons
Speaker's chamber in the Canadian House of Commons
|Behind the Camera:
Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002)
He signed his photos "Karsh of Ottawa"
A glowering Winston Churchill then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Last Updated on November 20, 2011
by Dean Lucas
1941 saw Churchill leading the UK, the only European country still resisting the Nazis. While touring the Dominion to rally for Commonwealth support, Churchill gave what many remember as a rousing speech to the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa:
| When I warned [the French] that Britain would fight on alone, whatever they did, their Generals told their Prime Minister and his divided cabinet: 'In three weeks, England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.
Some chicken....Some neck!
After the speech Canadian Prime Minister King had arranged for a portrait session to commemorate the event and told Karsh the day before, "When Churchill finishes his speech, I will bring him directly to you." King ushered Churchill into the room but he refused to enter demanding, "What's going on?" Unamused and caught by surprise Churchill lit up a cigar and growled, “Why was I not told of this?” The photographer Yousuf Karsh wrote what happened next:
After developing the image the young Armenian immigrant knew he had a
winner but didn't know how to go about publicizing it. Eventually he
was able to get in contact with Life magazine who used it in their
magazine and then on the May 21, 1945 cover. For the image that would
make what Karsh called, "the turning point in my career" Life paid him
the grand total of $100.
↓ Article continues below ↓
Yousuf Karsh was an ethnic Armenian born in Mardin Turkey on December 23, 1908. He grew up under intense Armenian-persecution where he wrote, "I saw relatives massacred; my sister died of starvation as we were driven from village to village."
To escape persecution when he was 16,, his family sent him to a photographer uncle named George Nakash who lived in Canada. When he first arrived in Eastern Quebec, young Yousuf wanted to be a doctor and worked in his uncle's studio to raise money for medical school.
Showing promise as a photographer, Nakash sent him to study under a family friend, John Garo, a renowned photographer who lived in Boston, USA. For three years Yousuf learned the tricks of the trade often accompanying Garo to high society functions across the Eastern seaboard. During this time he became engrossed in photography and any thoughts of being a doctor were forgotten.
He returned to Ottawa and set up a studio because, "I chose Canada because it gave me my first opportunity and I chose Ottawa because, as the capital, it was a crossroads that offered access to a wide range of subjects," As word of his talents spread he set up studios in other cities like New York and London for the convenience of his clients but it was in Canada that he captured his famous Churchill portrait.
The Churchill shot cemented his fame and throughout his career he went on to shoot other many famous portraits and many famous people. On July 13, 2002 Karsh died at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital after complications following surgery. He was 93 years old.
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill
Churchill was born on 30 November 1874 into a famous English aristocratic family, the Spencer-Churchills. He spent much of his childhood at boarding schools where he had little if any contact with his parents. He went onto the Royal Military College in Sandhurst and graduated eighth out of a class of 150 in December 1894.
As an officer in the British Army, he fought in a number of colonial wars where he showed courage on the front lines. In 1900 he started his political career and spent much of the rest of his life in British politics. In the run up to the second world war he fiercely opposed, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler. When Chamberlain was forced out of office Churchill, then the First Lord of the Admiralty, was chosen as successor. During the difficult war years Churchill is credited with having the strength to never surrender to the Axis onslaught. This defiance is captured perfectly in Karsh's picture.
After the war he lost the 1945 election but was returned to the Prime Minister's office in 1951 before then retiring in '55. When he died in 1965, his state funeral was attended by the one of the largest assemblies of world leaders in history.
Other Famous Portraits
Fairey Obama Poster
MacArthur and the Emperor