Yousuf or Josuf (his given Armenian name was Hovsep) Karsh was born in Mardin, a city in the eastern Ottoman Empire (present Turkey). He grew up during the Armenian Genocide where he wrote, “I saw relatives massacred; my sister died of starvation as we were driven from village to village.” At the age of 14, he fled with his family to Syria to escape persecution. Two years later, his parents sent Yousuf to live with his uncle George Nakash, a photographer in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. Karsh briefly attended school there and assisted in his uncle’s studio. Nakash saw great potential in his nephew and in 1928 arranged for Karsh to apprentice with portrait photographer John Garo in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. His brother, Malak Karsh, was also a photographer famous for the image of logs floating down the river on the Canadian one dollar bill.
Karsh returned to Canada four years later, eager to make his mark. He established a studio in the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa, Ontario, close to Canada’s seat of government. Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King discovered Karsh and arranged introductions with visiting dignitaries for portrait sittings. Karsh’s work attracted the attention of varied celebrities, but his place in history was sealed on 30 December 1941 when he photographed Winston Churchill, after Churchill gave a speech to Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa.
Yousuf Karsh wikipedia