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Karsh Award

Celebrate photography

About the Karsh Award

The City of Ottawa is proud to honour Yousuf and Malak Karsh with a commemorative award of $7,500 to an established professional artist for outstanding artistic work in a photo-based medium. The Karsh Award is presented every two years to an Ottawa artist who has demonstrated a strong commitment to artistic excellence in the discipline.


About the Karsh brothers

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.

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'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 TulipsThe Parliament BuildingsTulips; and, Malak's Canada.

Nomination deadline

2018 Karsh Award deferred to 2019

Please note that the 2018 Karsh Award has been deferred to 2019.

The 2019 Karsh Award nomination deadline is January 7, 2019.

Nomination Forms

Guidelines and nomination forms will be available in September 2018.

Contact Us

Program Inquiries

For specific information on the nomination process, or to discuss eligibility, contact:

Marie-Christine Feraud
613-580-2424 ext. 23915

General inquiries

For general information or to request nomination forms, contact:

613-580-2424, ext. 29404

2017 Karsh - Continuum (Special Exhibition)

Continuum – Karsh Award artists welcome a new generation

September 14 to October 22, 2017

Curator: Melissa Rombout

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.

Special Event and Vernissage

Mayor Jim Watson will officially open the exhibition presented at Karsh-Masson Gallery during a special event to be held on Thursday, September 14, 2017, 5:30 to 7:30 pm at Ottawa City Hall, Jean-Pigott Place, 110 Laurier Ave W. The event and vernissage are open to the public. We hope that you will be able to join us for this celebration of artistic excellence. 

Tour with the curator: Sunday, September 24, 2 pm


2016 Karsh Award


The City of Ottawa is pleased to announce that Michael Schreier is the recipient of the 2016 Karsh Award. 

News Release: Ottawa artist Michael Schreier wins 2016 Karsh Award

Michael Schreier, Self-Portrait for Dave, June 27, 2016







Michael Schreier, Self-Portrait for Dave, June 27, 2016


The Karsh-Masson Gallery hosted the exhibition The Karsh Award 2016: Michael Schreier – Camera Obscura from September 8 to October 16, 2016.

 Karsh Award Ceremony

The award was presented on Thursday, September 15 at the Karsh-Masson Gallery.   

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

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