Armen Elliott Photo

A Portrait Session with Yousuf Karsh

In 1983 while I was in graduate school at The Pratt Institute, my sister and I suggested that my parents contact the renowned Canadian-Armenian photographer, Yousuf Karsh, to arrange an anniversary portrait session. After they had scheduled an appointment, I asked if I could sit in on their session and they agreed.  
After arriving at his 62nd Street studio in Manhattan I nervously inquired if I could stay and take just a few photos of him while he was working.  He graciously agreed and began the process of chatting with my parents and then arranging them.  At one point during the session the flash was not operating properly. . . luckily for me.  Karsh was busy problem-solving and I had the opportunity to photograph him while he made adjustments and checked his 8×10 camera. After a bit, I summoned the courage to suggest that it might just be a loose connection and in fact it was! As we were leaving, he remarked that my instincts were good and that he’d never really considered hiring a woman before and that I should call his studio.  I naturally assumed he was just being polite and said so.  His beautiful and soft-spoken wife Estrellita, responded, “Oh no, he wouldn’t have said that if he didn’t mean it!”  I remember them both being extremely gracious and kind.  As a young photographer, I was pretty awestruck by the whole experience and will never forget it. For those interested in the details, I chose to bring my unobtrusive Canonet for its quiet shutter and I used tri-x film at ASA 400 and used only available light.
The portrait of my parents taken by Yousuf Karsh in 1983
The next week a small group of us from Pratt were in the process of hanging a show of our work at Lincoln Center and I had the naïve audacity to send Mr. Karsh a postcard invitation.  The following images are the postcard and his letter in response:




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