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 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.
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 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'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 Us; A Capital of Tulips; The Parliament Buildings; Tulips; and, Malak's Canada.