Karsh Award

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About the Karsh Award and the Karsh Brothers

The City of Ottawa is proud to honour the enduring legacy of Yousuf and Malak Karsh with a commemorative award to a professional photo/lens-based artist. Created in 2003 by Ottawa City Council, the Karsh Award recognizes the Karsh brothers for their immense contribution to our city's rich cultural heritage.

Every four years, a $7,500 prize is presented to a midcareer/established local artist for their outstanding body of work and significant contribution to the artistic discipline in a photo/lens-based medium.

Yousuf and Malak Karsh looking into camera

Over the subsequent three-year period, the laureate is also invited to hold an exhibition of his/her work at the Karsh-Masson Gallery, mentor within the local artistic community and participate in the Karsh Continuum exhibition.

In 1932, Yousuf Karsh opened his studio in Ottawa on Sparks Street, where he remained for 40 years. In 1937 Yousuf's brother Malak immigrated to Canada to apprentice with his brother.

 

Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh was born in Mardin, Armenia in Turkey, in 1908 and came to Canada in 1924. After brief schooling in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Karsh studied photography for three years under John Garo of Boston, an eminent portrait photographer of the day. In 1932, Karsh opened his studio in Ottawa on Sparks Street, where he remained for 40 years. He moved to the Chateau Laurier in 1972. As his work became better known, members of government, visiting statesmen and other dignitaries came to him to be photographed.

Karsh's portrait of Winston Churchill, taken in Ottawa in 1941, brought him international prominence and is one of the most widely reproduced portraits in the history of photography. Other world figures photographed by the artist include Nelson Mandella, President and Mrs. Kennedy, Lester Pearson, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Pope John Paul II, President and Mrs. Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein. Artists include Pablo Picasso, Georgia O'Keefe, Andy Warhol, Stephen Leacock, Ernest Hemingway, Luciano Pavarotti, and Glenn Gould.

Yousuf Karsh

Karsh published over 10 books between 1946 and 2003, and collaborated by illustration on many more. Many of his portraits were accompanied by text giving the artist's impression of, and experiences with, the subject of the photo. He died in 2002 in the midst of the preparation of Karsh: A Biography in Images, published by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in 2003.

During his lifetime, Karsh held extensive one-man shows in major cities around the world. His work is represented in the permanent collections of The National Gallery of Canada, Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Chicago Art Institute, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The National Portrait Gallery in London, Le Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, The National Portrait Gallery of Australia and many other museums in Canada and around the world.

In 1999, the International Who's Who chose Yousuf Karsh as one of the 100 most influential figures of the 20th Century. Among the other famous people listed, Karsh had photographed more than half. He once said, "My chief joy is to photograph the great in heart, in mind and in spirit, whether they be famous or humble."

Malak Karsh

Malak Karsh was born on March 1, 1915, in Mardin, Armenia in Turkey. He immigrated to Canada in 1937 to apprentice with his brother, famous portrait photographer, Yousuf Karsh. After learning the fundamentals of photography, Malak chose to specialize in industrial photography and pictorial journalism. In 1941, he opened his first studio on Sparks Street in Ottawa, with the help of his secretary and assistant, Barbara Holmes, who later became his wife, partner in business for life, and mother of their four children. Malak used his first name only to identify his business and photographs.

Malak Karsh

Malak's photos of the nation's capital, awash in a sea of tulips, made his name known internationally. In 1952, his fascination with the blooms led him to establish the annual Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa. His photographs graced the pages of many international publications including Canadian Geographic and The New York Times. Several stamps have been issued with his photographs, the most recent being the Canadian Tulip Stamp. The Canadian one-dollar bill displayed his work. In 2000, Malak received the key to the City of Ottawa and a street was named Malak Street in his honour. He was the recipient of the Order of Canada, the Whitton Award, and the National Film Board of Canada's Gold Medal.

Malak Karsh died in 2001, leaving a legacy of beauty in his books: Ottawa and the National Capital Regions; Canadian Museum of Civilization; Canada: The Land That Shapes UsA Capital of Tulips The Parliament Buildings; Tulips; and, Malak's Canada.

2023-2026 Program Guidelines

Every four years, in honour of the enduring legacy of Yousuf and Malak Karsh, the City of Ottawa recognizes a local mid-career or established artist for their outstanding body of work and their significant contribution to the artistic discipline in a photo/lens-based medium.

Deadline: Wednesday, January 11, 2023, at 4 pm.
Nominations must be submitted by the deadline.
Late submissions will not be accepted.

2023 Laureate – Award, Exhibition, Mentorship

Between 2023-2026 the Karsh laureate will:

  1. receive an award of $7,500
  2. be invited to exhibit their work in 2024 at the Karsh-Masson Gallery located in City Hall. The laureate will be paid an exhibition fee, as outlined in the 2024 CARFAC fee schedule, and can choose to either:
    • select an independent curator for their exhibition or
    • increase the size and scope of their exhibition catalogue
  3. be invited, in 2025, to participate as a paid mentor to:
    • mentor and/or engage the local photographic or lens-based community by leading one or more activities, such as a workshop, portfolio evaluations, lecture, etc. or
    • mentor the selected exhibiting artists of the 2026 Karsh Continuum exhibition
  4. be invited, to participate in the 2026 Karsh Continuum exhibition, by either:
    • selecting up to 3 local photo or lens-based artists who will receive an award of $2,000 each and the opportunity to exhibit their work at the Karsh-Masson Gallery or
    • assisting in the selection of an independent curator to mount an exhibition celebrating local photographic and/or lens-based art/artists

All exhibiting artists will be paid associated CARFAC fees.

Past laureates include:

2019 Andrew Wright

2016 Michael Schreier

2014 Chantal Gervais

2012 Rosalie Favell

2010 Tony Fouhse

2008 Jeffrey Thomas

2006 Robert Bourdeau

2005 JustinWonnacott

2003 Lorraine Gilbert

2026 Karsh Continuum Exhibition

In 2017, to acknowledge Canada’s sesquicentennial, the City of Ottawa presented the Continuum: Karsh Award artists welcome a new generation. Emerging Ottawa artists were selected by past Karsh Award laureates to participate in a special exhibition that celebrated the future of artistic achievement in photo-based mediums.

To continue to foster an ongoing dialogue around photo or lens-based work, the City of Ottawa, in collaboration with the Karsh laureate, will mount a Karsh Continuum exhibition in the fourth year of the program.

Past artists selected include:

2022: Stéphane Alexis, Shelby Lisk, Neeko Paluzzi

2017: Joi T. Arcand, AM Dumouchel, Leslie Hossack, Olivia Johnston, Julia Martin, Meryl McMaster, Ruth Steinberg

Nomination Process for the Karsh Award

An award candidate must be nominated by a member of the photographic or visual arts community.

Nominators can include:

  • a curator or art critic
  • a director, curator or board member of a public gallery, museum, or artist-run centre
  • a staff or board member of a professional arts organization
  • an established cultural connector or community leader with experience in the visual arts discipline
  • a visual arts gallery owner
  • a professor, chair, or dean of visual arts
  • an established professional visual artist

Eligibility for the Karsh Award Nominee

The City of Ottawa encourages submissions from First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, people of colour, persons with disabilities and members of the 2SLGBTQIA communities.

To be eligible, a nominated candidate must be a local mid-career or established, professional photo or lens-based artist who:

  • is a current resident* of the city of Ottawa and has lived in Ottawa for at least 12 months at the time of the submission or

is Indigenous and resides in the city of Ottawa, Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation or

is Anishinabe Algonquin living within 150 km radius of Ottawa

  • has made a significant contribution to the contemporary practices of fine art photography, lens-based and/or digital imagery
  • has produced an outstanding body of independent work in the discipline
  • has a history of public presentations
  • has received recognition from peers

City of Ottawa employees and elected representatives are ineligible for this award. Past laureates cannot be re-considered for the award for a period of 10 years.

*City staff reserve the right to ask for proof of Ottawa residency

Submission Requirements

A complete submission package must include a Nominator and Nominee form. Both must be submitted by the deadline.

From the Nominator

A completed and signed Nominator form, which includes:

  • a one-page covering letter, written by the nominator, outlining artistic achievements and reasons for nomination

From the Nominee

A completed Nominee form, which includes:

  • a current professional artist CV (maximum five pages), with emphasis on artistic achievements
  • an artist’s statement
  • support material

Support Material

Support material is intended to provide the evaluation committee with an overview of the artistic merit of the nominated candidate’s work and provide a history of his/her development in an independent, non-commercial photo/lens-based art practice.

To demonstrate the nominee’s range of work, with emphasis on more recent imagery, a maximum of 20 samples of work must be provided.

Additionally, you may also submit up to 5 digital documents that provide evidence of the candidate’s achievements, including:

  • exhibition catalogues and invitations
  • art books
  • magazine articles and/or critical reviews

All support documentation must be submitted in digital format:

  • Digital images – JPEG format and no larger than 1 MB each
  • Video – URL/web links
  • Additional support – PDF, Word, JPEG

You will have the choice to upload or provide a link for each file.

Selection Process

Submissions will be assessed through an arm’s length peer evaluation process. A jury composed of professional artists, curators and/or arts professionals will review each submission based on the assessment criteria of the Karsh Award program and select a winning laureate.

Jury members are selected by the Cultural funding support unit for their expertise, knowledge and engagement within photo or lens-based arts practices.

The City of Ottawa adheres to Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality policies in the selection of peer assessors. For more details, please visit the Information for Applicants page of this website.

Assessment Criteria

The assessment criteria used in selecting a laureate are:

  • Artistic excellence and innovation
  • Strong artistic vision
  • High technical standards
  • Contribution to the artistic discipline
  • Strength of body of work

Notification

The laureate and nominator will be notified of the results approximately four months after the deadline date.

The laureate and nominator must agree to keep the results confidential until the date of the public announcement, which will take place in early 2024.

Please note that results cannot be released over the telephone.

Nomination Forms and contact information

To submit a complete nomination package, both the Nominator and Nominee must have completed and submitted the following forms:

The online form will open in a new window or browser.

Contact Information

For further information about the Karsh Award please contact:
Marie-Christine Feraud
613-818-1491

For general information and technical support, contact:
Infoculture

2019 Karsh Award Recipient

2019 Karsh Award Recipient
Andrew Wright

Artist Andrew Wright, "Disused Twin Brownie Hawkeye Cameras (detail)", 2015

Andrew Wright, Disused Twinned 35 Brownies, Detail

Jury Statement

The jury of the 2019 Karsh Award is pleased to announce that this year’s prize has been awarded to Andrew Wright.

For twenty-five years, Wright has been making significant contributions, as an artist and art educator, to art communities in Ottawa, Canada and abroad. His inquisitive approach to art-making has resulted in an impressive and eclectic body of work that often combines playfulness with more serious meditations on perception and the technological underpinnings of both historical and contemporary image-making processes.

Jury members: Lori Pauli, Michael Schreier and Geneviève Thauvette.

Learn more about the Karsh Award exhibition presented by this artist by visiting the Karsh-Masson Gallery page on the city of Ottawa website.

Karsh Award – Past Laureates

2016 Karsh Award Recipient
Michael Schreier

Michael Schreier, Untitled, 2016, digital print, 32 x 43 cm. Courtesy of the artist

Jury Statement

The 2016 Karsh Award jury is pleased to nominate Michael Schreier for this prestigious prize. Schreier has contributed significantly to photographic practice in Ottawa through his rigorous yet poetic exploration of the expressive potential of the photographic image and through his extensive teaching and mentoring of young talent. 

His deliberate approach to photography has always been focused on the act of photographing and on the image itself. He has a way of finding ordinary yet unusual subjects for his portrait images, allowing the viewer to reflect on the expressive potential of the images themselves, regardless of the fame or notoriety of their subjects. He has produced series with such evocative titles as Tears for an Empty Desert, 2004 and Comedy of Postures, 1996, which challenge the viewer to find the link between the individual images, the series and the title. 

In his current blog “Camera Obscura,” Schreier explores the connection between photographs and memory, compelling the viewer to formulate a narrative to accompany the images and to reflect on the transience of the photographic image (Why this moment and not the next?). Furthermore, he juxtaposes poetry, music and image, resulting in a gentle variation on the essence of photography. The title and components of Storyteller/Waiting for Words, 2009 perhaps best exemplify Schreier's search for meaning in the photographic image and series. 

Jury members: Eva Major-Marothy, Alain Paiement and Jeff Thomas 

2014 Karsh Award Recipient
Chantal Gervais

Chantal Gervais, Vitruvian Me, from the series Les maux non dits (The Body Ineffable), 2008. Courtesy of the artist

Chantal Gervais, Vitruvian Me

Chantal Gervais’ photo and video works deal with representation, identity and the relationship between the body and technology. Theatrical, yet sensitive, her works revel in the body’s corporeality, its vulnerability and strength. In a series of self-portraits created using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and flatbed scans, she pushes photographic boundaries by transforming scientific data into personal and revealing studies of identity. Her distinct bodies of work expand upon an ongoing narrative that reflects on the emotional and physical responses to our mortality and human condition.

Formally trained in Ottawa and London (England), Chantal Gervais has been living in Ottawa since 1990. Committed to her community, she has worked as an instructor at the University of Ottawa and Ottawa School of Art and has been a board member at local artist-run centres including Gallery 101 and Daïmôn. Her work has been in numerous exhibitions in Canada and abroad. She is the recipient of municipal, provincial and national grants and awards, among them the Canada Council for the Arts’ 2002 Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography.

2012 Karsh Award Recipient
Rosalie Favell

Rosalie Favell, I awoke to find my spirit had returned (Plain(s) Warrior Artist)

Rosalie Favell, I awoke to find my spirit had returned (Plain(s) Warrior Artist). Courtesy of the artist.

Rosalie Favell is a photo-based artist who uses a variety of sources, ranging from pop culture to family albums, to present complex self-portraits of her experiences as a contemporary Aboriginal woman. In this image, as in all of her work, the photograph is a performance space where identity is constantly worked and reworked, represented, and perhaps hidden. Her images present the artist’s restlessness, longing, and struggle to find her place in the world.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Rosalie Favell draws inspiration from her family history and Métis (Cree/English) heritage. She studied photography at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (Toronto), received an M.F.A. from the University of New Mexico and pursued doctoral studies (ABD) at Carleton University (Ottawa). She has had solo exhibitions across North America, Taiwan and Scotland. She has been the recipient of several provincial and national grants and awards including the Ontario Arts Council Chalmers Arts Fellowship and the Canada Council Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award.

2010 Karsh Award Recipient
Tony Fouhse

Tony Fouhse, Jessica and Melissa. Courtesy of the artist

Born in 1954, Tony Fouhse is an Ottawa-based photographer, who, for the past 30 years, has balanced his editorial and commercial work with his personal artistic practice. Fouhse, a sophisticated portrait photographer, began by training his camera on the street and never abandoned his roots. His humanist artistic vision has been influenced by his sensibility of the street and its lessons. His work has been featured in numerous publications and exhibited in galleries throughout North America.

Although the people he photographs are frequently outsiders estranged from our demographic centre, his edgy and compelling portraits break down the distance that social differences set up. Sometimes troubling, his images demand active looking from the viewer; obliging us to wrestle with our own unacknowledged assumptions. Fouhse does not judge by pointing his camera ‘up’ or ‘down’ but rather negotiates images of his subjects with an empathy based on mutual respect. He sets the stage by planting his metaphorical tripod right in front of you and then lets you just “be”. A photographer with a strong sense of place and a deeply democratic view of his fellow human beings, Fouhse has been commended for the emotional honesty of his portraiture.

2008 Karsh Award Recipient
Jeff Thomas

Jeff Thomas, Memory Junction. Courtesy of the artist.

Jeff Thomas is an ‘urban Iroquois’ artist, born in the city of Buffalo, New York in 1956. His parents and grandparents were born at the Six Nations reserve, near Brantford, Ontario and left the reserve to find work in the city. Thomas’ photographic practice is concerned with issues of First Nations identity and politics.

A photographer and curator, his specialty is the exploration of historical cultural resources to bring voices, stories and perspectives into the present. In his curatorial projects, Thomas has mined archival vaults for non-Native visual and written records to recover lost elements of Aboriginal history. His photographic works appear in many major collections in Canada, the United States and Europe and have forged new sources of research and knowledge that inspired increased awareness and contributed to an informed discussion of current Aboriginal issues. Recognized for its great cultural significance and innovation, Thomas’ work has helped to assert a contemporary Urban Aboriginal identity.

2006 Karsh Award Recipient
Robert Bourdeau

Robert Bourdeau, Le Grand Palais. Courtesy of the artist

Robert Bourdeau is a self-taught artist who took up photography as his lifetime practice in the late 1950s after meeting influential American photographer Minor White.

Using a large format camera, Bourdeau creates images from negatives as large as 8” x 10”. At this size, the film captures more detail than the eye can physically see in its place. His flawless printing exposes a personal relationship with natural and man-made environments and renders visible the ceremonial importance he has ascribed to the physical practice of photography and the spaces he captures. Bourdeau renders natural and unnatural formations into tapestry-like abstractions, erasing the single viewer vantage point and instead employing an expansive consideration for nature’s architecture, its uniqueness and spiritual bounty. Through his reverent collecting and personifying of decaying man-made industrial sites, Bourdeau’s practice has evolved from the formal and remarkable to the iconic and timeless.

2005 Karsh Award Recipient
Justin Wonnacott

An example of Justin Wonnacott's work

Justin Wonnacott, I remember and I forget, 2007. Courtesy of the artist.

Born in Belleville, Ontario in 1950, Justin Wonnacott moved to Ottawa in 1974 to work in a commercial studio where he later worked as a photojournalist and commercial photographer. In the late 1970s he changed his career focus to become an artist, photographer, curator,teacher and visual historian. Wonnacott's works are as varied as his interests. He began by investigating documentary methods, later adopting a theatrical approach to photography, and in the 1990s he explored digital photomontage. His most recent large format photomontage works are informed by political photomontage and his dual relationship to photographs as a picture maker and consumer. Wonnacott continues to add to a major project concerning public art in the National Capital Region, and to a contemporary image archive of Somerset Street among other pursuits, including a pictorial body of work titled "I remember and I forget", which refers to the genre of the still life and to himself. Throughout, his pursuits reflect his passion for understanding social meaning in the photographic image.

2003 Karsh Award Recipient
Lorraine Gilbert

Lorraine Gilbert, Doing the Dishes, 2002-2003. Courtesy of the artist.

Lorraine Gilbert is an artist, educator and graphic designer. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology and a Masters of Fine Arts. Her photographic practice, largely influenced by her interest in biology and nature, investigates the extraordinary in nature and how it can be accessed by ordinary means. Depicting gardens, urban and wild landscapes, and the results of forest harvesting in the West, her images make us reconsider the ties between culture and nature. To further these investigations, Gilbert continues to work with Boreal Art/Nature, an artist-run center based in the Laurentian Mountains of Québec where she also helped to organize international expeditions and residencies at a home she shared with two others on 100 acres of forest, field and lake.

Working at the crossroads of issues raised by contact between hi-tech culture and wild nature, Gilbert is “interested in the difference between ‘the landscape’ as an ideal or essential vision and the nature that it represents in this age of experience-by-proxy.” Her work strives to separate reality from the photograph while still preserving the illusion of truth, so important to the art of photography.

2022 Karsh Continuum

In 2017, to acknowledge Canada’s sesquicentennial, the City of Ottawa presented a new exhibition, Continuum: Karsh Award artists welcome a new generation. Emerging local artists were selected by past Karsh Award laureates to participate in this special exhibition celebrating the future of artistic achievement in a photo-based medium.

Continuing to foster this ongoing dialogue around photo/lens-based work, the 2022 Karsh Continuum exhibition honours the artistic legacy of Yousuf and Malak Karsh while continuing an intergenerational chain of mentorship that fosters photo/lens-based innovation.

2022 Karsh Continuum artists selected

The City of Ottawa was pleased to announce that local artists Stéphane Alexis, Shelby Lisk and Neeko Paluzzi were selected by 2019 Karsh Award laureate Andrew Wright for the 2022 Karsh Continuum exhibition and mentorship opportunity.

“All three artists engage with photography in an expanded sense. Recognizing both the utility and the limitations of photography’s established traditions and conceits, they continue to make poignant works where photography is an important yet constituent part of their significance.” –Andrew Wright

Learn more about the artists exhibition by visiting the Karsh-Masson Gallery page on the city of Ottawa website.

About the artists

Stéphane Alexis (link is external) is an emerging photographer who mobilizes his technical acuity and tender sensitivity to draw our attention to simple subjects that have profound implications. Proceeding by turning his attention to his immediate experience with razor-sharp focus, his simple images are revealed to be complex mediations on contemporary social relations that resonate with many.

“This exhibition is an opportunity to create a wider audience for the communities that need advocacy and empowerment. I believe that exhibiting with other talented artists gives viewers the opportunity to observe other works that they may not have been exposed to.” –Stéphane Alexis

portrait

Shelby Lisk (link is external) is a multidisciplinary artist, poet and photographer from Kenhtè:ke (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory). She uses a wide variety of practices in addition to photography, such as storytelling, documentary film and journalism, to explore subjects that are timely and important. Shelby is interested in capturing people's intrinsic connection to culture, land (place) and one another—especially through the stories of Indigenous people in Canada.

“I am honoured to be one of the three artists selected for the ‘Karsh Continuum’ exhibition. Ottawa is the city where I first started working as a photographer and, after living away for many years, I am so happy to be back here and to contribute to the photographic community.” –Shelby Lisk

portrait

Neeko Paluzzi (link is external) is well versed in traditional and contemporary photographic and related practices. His works are invitations to explore and interrogate our own subtly nuanced and complex histories, and how they contribute to the formation of the multi-faceted cultures we all inhabit today. The problem of how artworks communicate and come to be meaningful is of primary concern.

“As an emerging artist, it can be difficult for curators and audiences to take your work seriously. This exhibition, along with Andrew’s mentorship, presents a real opportunity to add a level of professionalism that is not usually available to artists at my level.” –Neeko Paluzzi

All photos are courtesy of the artists.

portrait

Karsh Continuum - past exhibitions

In 2017, to acknowledge Canada’s sesquicentennial, the City of Ottawa presented a new exhibition, Continuum: Karsh Award artists welcome a new generation. Emerging local artists were selected by past Karsh Award laureates to participate in this special exhibition celebrating the future of artistic achievement in a photo-based medium.

2017 Karsh Continuum – Karsh Award artists welcome a new generation

Continuing an intergenerational chain of mentorship that fosters camera-based innovation, past Karsh Award laureates have selected seven emergent artists: Joi T. Arcand, AM Dumouchel, Leslie Hossack, Olivia Johnston, Julia Martin, Meryl McMaster and Ruth Steinberg. Presented as part of Canada’s 150th anniversary, this special exhibition celebrates the future of artistic achievement in a photo-based medium.

Catalogue excerpt

Continuum is a project based on connecting many moments in time. It was conceived as a way to celebrate a new wave of emerging Ottawa artists during Canada’s sesquicentennial year. Recipients of the City of Ottawa’s prestigious Karsh Award were invited to choose a local Ottawa artist working with photography as a medium, a relative newcomer to stand in the spotlight.

The Karsh photographers, innovators stylistically, gracious in comportment and masters of film-based photography, would no doubt be astonished and delighted by the myriad of camera-based practices in this exhibition, and their roles as progenitors of a chain of connection radiating outward. These common threads of welcome entwine here.

- Excerpt from the essay by Melissa Rombout

Learn more about the artists involved in this exhibition by visiting the Karsh-Masson Gallery page on the city of Ottawa website.