Monday, March 30, 2009

"Yousuf Karsh: Portraits of Artists" at RISD

From my review of "Yousuf Karsh: Portraits of Artists" at the RISD Museum:
Yousuf Karsh is one of the giants of portrait photography. His iconic shots of Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, and Ernest Hemingway are the definitive portraits of the craggy grand old men. And his photos of a willowy Audrey Hepburn and a smoldering Anita Ekberg ain't nothing to sneeze at. But "Yousuf Karsh: Portraits of Artists" at the RISD Museum (224 Benefit Street, through August 23) is the photographer at his weakest.

There are a handful of striking shots here. Georgia O'Keeffe is a flinty, witchy, black-clad ol' pioneer gal seated gazing toward her rough wooden door and a slice of New Mexico desert. A deer skull hangs on the wall behind her, and her hand touches a weathered tree stump. Another photo shows a white-bearded Edward Steichen rowing with a woman by a hill of birches. Karsh pays careful attention to light — leaving nearly everything shadowed, except for the people in the boat, the crests of the waves, and a fleecy tree.

But most of the 27 photos here, a gift to the museum from Karsh's widow Estrellita, feel gimmicky. Karsh often seems not to know what to do with artists and succumbs to trying to be arty.
Read the rest here.

"Yousuf Karsh: Portraits of Artists," RISD Museum, 224 Benefit St., Providence, Feb. 27 to Aug. 23, 2009.


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