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Photo Essay: The World of Yousuf Karsh

Famous photographer’s work on display at Halifax’s Pier 21 museum

4 min read
Woman takes a picture of a portrait on her phone.
caption Mary Spurr is taking a picture of Paul Robeson’s portrait. Robeson was an American singer, actor and political activist.
Xixi Jiang

The iconic works of Yousuf Karsh, one of the great portrait photographers of the 20th century, are on display in Halifax, where Karsh first landed as a refugee at 15. 

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts organized the exhibit, “The World of Yousuf Karsh: A Private Essence.” Karsh’s portraits of famous actors, authors and politicians will be on display until October at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. 

The Halifax exhibit differs from the Montreal version by highlighting Karsh’s refugee experience and his time in Nova Scotia’s capital.  

Sara England is the exhibitions coordinator at the immigration museum. 

Woman in red sweater hols the door open to a room filled with black and white portraits
caption Sara England holds the door to enter Karsh’s exhibition.
Xixi Jiang

“The exhibition for Yousuf Karsh is really highlighting contributions of an amazing Armenian Canadian photographer,” she told the Signal in an interview. 

caption Karsh took Albert Einstein’s portrait in 1948.
Xixi Jiang

Karsh arrived in Halifax in 1924 as a survivor of the First World War Armenian genocide. He died in 2002 at the age of 93. 

This year, the Canadian immigration museum is focusing on the contributions of immigrants and refugees in Canada. Halifax was once Canada’s main entry point for newcomers, with nearly one million people coming through Pier 21. 

Portrait of Winston Churchill and caption.
caption Karsh’s iconic portrait of Sir Winston Churchill is displayed at the main entrance of the exhibit.
Xixi Jiang

Karsh’s portrait of Sir Winston Churchill is the photographer’s best well-known work and it made him famous. The black-and-white photo of a stern-looking British prime minister was taken inside the Canadian Parliament in 1941. It prompted numerous celebrities to seek out Karsh to have him snap their portraits, as well.

caption Karsh’s took this portrait of his wife Estrellita in 1963, the year after they got married.
Xixi Jiang

Estrellita Karsh, Karsh’s wife, donated more than 100 original silver gelatin prints to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2021. That’s how Karsh’s exhibition “The World of Yousuf Karsh: A Private Essence” was born. 

caption Karsh took author Ernest Hemingway’s portrait in 1957.
Xixi Jiang

Karsh’s famous portraits have been featured as cover images for biographies of writers, scientists, and politicians.

caption A women reads a caption about the story behind Karsh’s Churchill portrait.
Xixi Jiang

England said Karsh’s exhibition drew crowds that grew by the day.

caption Visitors admire Karsh’s works from the 1960s.
Xixi Jiang


caption A visitor reads the caption of Karsh’s portrait of Anita Ekberg, a Swedish actress. Another women reads the caption for a portrait of Paul Desmarais, a Canadian financier and philanthropist.
Xixi Jiang

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About the author

Xixi Jiang

Xixi Jiang, who often goes by Jacky, is from China. She’s a fourth-year student in BJH program at the University of King’s College.

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