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Yousuf KARSH | Helen Keller with her companion Polly Thomson

KARSH, Yousuf
Armenia 1908 – United States of America 2002
1925 Canada
Helen Keller with her companion Polly Thomson 1948
gelatin silver photograph
printed image 99.0 (h) x 73.6 (w) cm
Purchased 1973
NGA 1974.396.130
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‘“How I wish”, said this extraordinary woman who could neither see nor hear, “that all men would take sunrise for their slogan and leave the shadow of sunset behind.” … By her incredible victory over the flesh she had left the shadows behind her. Blind, she had seen the sunrise; deaf, she had heard the music of the spheres. I left her with a new sense of our human possibilities.’ (Karsh)

Helen Keller was blind and deaf from the age of 19 months after suffering what was termed ‘brain fever’. When she was five, her parents sought the advice of Alexander Graham Bell, who urged them to write to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. The Institute sent Anne Sullivan to teach her and Sullivan was able to make contact with Keller through touch, teaching her the alphabet and how to read and write in Braille. Keller learnt to listen to people by placing her middle finger on the speaker’s nose, forefinger on the lips and thumb on the larynx. She also learnt to talk to a degree and was able to attend RadcliffeCollege from which she graduated with honours in 1904. Keller committed her life to helping the deaf and the blind. Polly Thomson, Keller’s secretary from 1914, became Keller’s companion after Sullivan’s death in 1936.

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