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Photographing Greatness

The Story of Karsh

by lian goodall

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photography, social activists
list price: $21.99
also available: eBook
published: 2007
publisher: Dundurn Press
imprint: Napoleon and Co
Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
9 to 12
4 to 8
Reading age:
9 to 12
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Canadian Children's  Book Centre
Librarian review

Photographing Greatness: The Story of Karsh

Another in Napoleon’s Stories of Canada series, this timely biography of Yousuf Karsh comes in the centenary of his birth. Born in 1908 in Armenia, Karsh escaped the Armenian massacre and eventually made his way to Canada in 1924, where he apprenticed with his uncle. The book devotes several chapters to his childhood, portraying a boy who faced many difficult challenges in his young life with trepidation mixed with curiosity. After only a short time working with his uncle, he became seriously interested in photography. He went to Boston for three years to study with Garo, an important photographer there. His time in Boston opened the world to him and he decided to set up his own studio. He chose Ottawa because he knew that many important people would be passing through – even as a young man, his sights were set high. His first major photograph, of the Governor General Lord Bessborough and his wife, set him on the path of doing portrait photography. His work in the theatre taught him about artificial lighting, and also introduced him to his future wife, Solange. We read the story of how he captured his most famous shot, that of the scowling Winston Churchill. After that photograph, Karsh became the photographer of choice for the powerful and famous.

Many of his famous photographs are included here as well as photos of Karsh himself, both posed and informal, along with simple black and white drawings. The book is arranged in short chapters, with sidebars providing more information on various topics or further details on Karsh’s life. Sidebars help to break up the text, which can sometimes be distracting rather than enlightening. In this case, some of the sidebars, such as the story of his wedding, would have worked better as part of the main story.

lian goodall is the author of the excellent biography of Portia White, also in this series. She writes in a bright and lively style and keeps the story moving at a good pace, in language well suited to the child reader. Like other titles in this series, this story gives young readers a window into the life of a successful Canadian, telling his story with warmth and dignity.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Winter 2009. Volume 32 Number 1.

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Yousuf Karsh emigrated to North America from Turkey in the 1920s, eventually settling in Ottawa. An early interest in photography inspired him to open his own studio. As he became known for the quality of his work, Karsh’s close proximity to powerful leaders in Ottawa led to commissions of portraits of politicians. He became known as the worlds’ finest portrait photographer for his gift of drawing out and capturing a subject’s character in a photograph. Over a seventy plus year career, Karsh photographed many famous musicians, artists, actors, captains of industry and politlcians. He was also a humanitarian who worked with sick children. This is the first children’s biography of the man who immortalized the makers of history.

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About the Author

lian goodall

lian goodall began reviewing Canadian children's books in the 1980s and currently has a regular column in the Guelph Mercury and St. Catharines Standard. Her first published book was Diego Maradona. Her second was William Lyon Mackenzie King. She lives in Ottawa, Ontario.
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