‘Yousuf Karsh: A Retrospective’
Local Arts Reviews
Yousuf Karsh: A Retrospective: Essence in Light and Shadow
Oswald Gallery, through Dec. 28
Yousuf Karsh. Even if you didn't already know his name, you know the man's images: those photographic portraits of famous people -- artists, scientists, political leaders -- from the first half, most often, of the previous century. Specifically, those portraits, the ones in the world's finest museums, the ones in the best coffeetable history books, the ones that you see and instantly think, "This is definitive; there could never be another picture that captures so precisely the essence of this great individual, as a force of self-creation shaping and shaped by history, as a three-dimensional body existing in light and shadow, ever again." At least, if your mind extemporaneously worked language as well as Karsh worked cameras, that's what you'd think.
Martin Luther King Jr. Georgia O'Keeffe. Winston Churchill. Alberto Giacometti. Mother Teresa. Ernest Hemingway. John Fitzgerald Kennedy. George Bernard Shaw. And others, all dead now, all impeccably preserved in displays of light-sensitive crystal by that one man: Yousuf Karsh.
Karsh himself died this year, at the marvelous age of 95, which makes this exhibit of black-and-white portraiture a retrospective of his life's work. It's a small sample of Karsh's career, perhaps, considering the span of years in which he worked, but it's a representative one, and certainly no smaller -- stretching along all the walls of the Oswald's front gallery -- than you'd be likely to find in a major museum. And at the Oswald Gallery, near the corner of Fifth and Lamar, snug among the complex housing Sabia and Zanzibar and other elegant shops, the exhibit is perfectly displayed. Just enough space, just the right amount of light, a few tight outcroppings of Bauhausian furniture to encourage leisurely contemplation of the captured images. Although, be warned: A few minutes of looking at the portraits of all these movers and shakers from recent history may inspire you to go out and do something great yourself.