Yousuf Karsh & John Garo: The Search for a Master's Legacy

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9781944038007: Yousuf Karsh & John Garo: The Search for a Master's Legacy
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When President Calvin Coolidge was asked to choose between the artist John Singer Sargent or the photographer John Garo to make his official presidential portrait, Coolidge chose Garo. Although unknown today, in the early years of the twentieth century, Garo was a nationally acclaimed photographer, a leader in the thriving Boston photographic community. Cultured and charming, Garo also painted watercolors, wrote poetry and counted among his friends luminaries in the worlds of music and theater. It was to this humanistic atmosphere of Garo's sky lit studio that the fledgling photographer, Yousuf Karsh, a survivor of the 1915 Armenian Massacres, was sent by his uncle George Nakash, to be Garo's apprentice. Garo was a nurturing and encouraging mentor. His three years with Garo transformed young Karsh's life and influenced his original desire to portray those personalities who made a positive impact on our world. Garo died in 1939, a victim of the Great Depression, ill health and changing photographic taste. Karsh, then still a struggling photographer in Canada, was devastated to discover Garo's studio ransacked, and many of his portraits missing. Thus began a forty-year odyssey by Karsh to discover his mentor's portraits, and preserve them for posterity. Drawing on meticulous research and on Karsh's personal correspondence, Mehmed Ali brings to life this intensely human journey, and the little known story of Garo's stellar role in the history of photography in New England.

Mehmed Ali’s “Yousuf Karsh & John Garo: The Search for a Master’s Legacy” (Benna), illustrated with 100 photographs, most of them by Garo or Karsh, offers an inside look at the early years of celebrity photography. (The Boston Globe)

This is also a story of a master and apprentice, a mentor and mentee, with Karsh investing himself in the restoration of Garo's legacy as one of New England's notable photographers.
Ali's discovery of Garo while doing research on Armenian political activists in Lowell led him to Karsh's widow, Estrellita, who encouraged Ali to pursue the story. Ali immersed himself in the subject, revealing the extraordinary accomplishments of both Garo and Karsh. The book is beautifully produced with high quality reproductions, mostly in black and white with a few color images. (The Lowell Sun)

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About the Author:

Mehmed Ali hails from Lowell, Massachusetts where he currently works as the municipality’s City Historian. He received bachelors and masters degrees in political science from the University of Hawai‘i and his doctorate in history at the University of Connecticut. Ali has served as a U.S. Marine, postman, National Park Service ranger, and diplomat but relishes his role as the father of daughter “Lom” Evelyn best of all.

Review:

Mehmed Ali could very well be the best friend any Armenian could have.
Aside from moral support, he's donated money to genocide observances in this mill city, taken part in commemorative marches downtown, and conducted a month-long series of programs as former director of the Mogan Cultural Center, which partially funded many a commemoration.
And now, he's come forward with a book encompassing the lives of two very prominent Armenian photographers of our time: Yousuf Karsh and his one-time mentor John Garo.
The fact he's of Turkish extraction pays little or no consequence.
"It's been a work in progress over the past six years," said Ali. "The more I delved into their lives, the greater understanding and respect I had for their work."
Titled The Search for a Master's Legacy, the book takes into account perhaps the greatest portrait photographer of his time, and the Boston mentor who taught him the ropes as a child. The chemistry each shared with their cameras and meager darkroom furnishings transcends both time and tradition.
Much of it was provided through personal interviews with Karsh's widow Estrellita, who resides in Boston, where Karsh also made his home before passing on.
"This story illustrates how to persevere through life's challenges, how to establish yourself as a leader in the art community, and how experiencing all life has to offer to create meaningful art," Ali added.
In a conversation with this author, Ali offered much insight into the book as well as the two photographers. Many books have been written by and for Karsh over the past half century. But little is known about the man who made Karsh possible.
"He was a nurturing and encouraging mentor. Karsh's three years with Garo transformed his young life and influenced his original desire to portray those personalities who made a positive impact in the world," Ali added.
When Garo died in 1939, it was Karsh who transfixed the photographic world with a number of presidential portraits and heads of state, movie stars, noted scientists, literary icons and common, everyday folks he preferred capturing.
It was to this humanistic atmosphere of Garo's sky-lit studio that the fledgling photographer, a survivor of the 1915 genocide, was sent by his uncle George Nakash to become Garo's apprentice.
The studio was located at 739 Boylston St. in downtown Boston on the top floor of an apartment complex. At the turn of the 20th century, approximately 30 professional photographers lined the 1.5-mile stretch from Washington St. to Massachusetts Ave.
Karsh was certainly in his young entrepreneurial element and, no doubt, learned from other masters as well. The skylight was a perfect atmosphere with which to radiate and illuminate his subjects.
"Garo also painted watercolors, wrote poetry, and was counted among his friends in the world of theater and music," Ali writes. "When he died in 1939, Garo was a victim of the Great Depression, ill health, and changing photographic tastes.
"When Karsh arrived here from Canada, he was devastated to discover Garo's studio ransacked and many of his portraits missing," Ali continued. "Thus began a 40-year odyssey by Karsh to discover his mentor's portraits and preserve them for posterity."
At last year's genocide commemoration in Lowell, Ali was so adamant about justice and recognition, he carried a sign that read, "Fellow Turks. Don't deny history."
"I wanted to tell the naysayers that you cannot deny the fact that 1.5 million Armenians died under the Ottoman-Turkish watch," he said. "The critical role of any government is to protect its citizens, and the Turks did not do that. We need to establish dialogue and understand one another so some resolve can be made between the two countries." (Armenian Weekly, April 2016)

A writer does a special service to the culture when he or she assembles a narrative that rescues a significant person from the back shelves of a library or newspaper archives. Mehmed Ali's scholarly sweet spot is the history of Lowell, Mass., but his research at times ranges far afield as he has done with his new book about the substantial photographers Yousuf Karsh and John Garo. With Boston links and even a thread into the Lowell experience, these accomplished artists made portraits of luminaries like President Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill and Pablo Picasso.

This is also a story of a master and apprentice, a mentor and mentee, with Karsh investing himself in the restoration of Garo's legacy as one of New England's notable photographers.
Ali's discovery of Garo while doing research on Armenian political activists in Lowell led him to Karsh's widow, Estrellita, who encouraged Ali to pursue the story. Ali immersed himself in the subject, revealing the extraordinary accomplishments of both Garo and Karsh. The book is beautifully produced with high quality reproductions, mostly in black and white with a few color images. Included are two Garo images of prominent Lowellians: a regal-looking Cardinal William Henry O'Connell (1906) and an elegant Edith Nourse in her early 20s before marrying Lowell lawyer John Jacob Rogers, later a congressman. He was succeeded in office by Mrs. Rogers, who served from 1925 to 1960, until recently the longest continuous service by a woman in the U.S. Congress. Ali was especially keen on having Cardinal O'Connell in the book because he sponsored Ali's great-uncle,Bishop Thomas Markham, as a priest.
Karsh Estate curator Jerry Fielder notes that "Ali has done a great service in reminding us why Garo was so significant and influential" in his time. Today, Garo's prints can be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. The Karsh portraits of Grace Kelly, Ansel Adams and Nelson Mandela are iconic images of these legends. Photographers today still study the "Karsh effect" in his dramatic approach to lighting subjects. He is credited as one of the first to allow a person's"character" to come through in a portrait. (Lowell Sun, April 2016)

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