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VIEW : All Works | Karsh | Shmith

The Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh (1908–2002) reached the height of his fame in the 1960s and 1970s when several large exhibitions of his work toured internationally. The Australian photographer Athol Shmith (1914–1992) made his name in Australia in the 1940s through his society and celebrity portraits.

Karsh’s detailed and dramatically lit portraits make his subjects quite monumental, while Shmith presented his subjects in softer light as more alluring characters. Both used techniques of stage and cinema lighting in developing the distinctive look of their portraiture.

Yousuf Karsh never visited Australia and most likely had never heard of Athol Shmith, who in turn thought Karsh made his subjects look like ‘empty buildings’.

Portraits are often said to be able to capture the soul of the sitter. This exhibition opens debate on how the style of individual portraitists affects our response to the subject.

To complement the tour of this exhibition, the National Gallery asked Australian professional photographer and writer Peter Adams to contribute an article for the web site on the work of Yousuf Karsh and Athol Shmith. Adams interviewed Karsh in 1992 and Shmith in 1986. He raises a number of issues about portrait photography in general and compares the work of Karsh and Shmith. Discussion notes for students will also be on the web site.

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