The Iconic Churchill: A Story for My Fellow Photographers

I found this wonderful tidbit about the photographer who took the most iconic picture of Church in Andrew Roberts biography, Churchill: Walking with Destiny. I immediately thought my fellow photographers would enjoy the story. If you have ever had to work with people in setting up a photo, you will appreciate Yousuf Karsh’s persistence. The photo was taken after Churchill gave a speech to the Canadian Parliament in 1942.

Roberts writes:

Immediately after the speech, Churchill was led into the Speaker’s chamber by Mackenzie King, where the young Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh was waiting to take his picture. He seemed reluctant as he had not been warned this would happen, but conceded that Karsh could take one photograph. ‘I offered him an ash-tray for his cigar but he pointedly ignored it, his eyes boring into mine,’ Karsh recalled. ‘At the camera, I made sure everything was in focus, closed the lens and stood up, my hand ready to close the shutter for release, when something made me hesitate.’  Karsh then said, ‘Forgive me, sir,’ and without permission removed the cigar from Churchill’s mouth. ‘His jaw tightened in belligerence; his eyes blazed. I clicked the shutter. ‘ The result was the greatest of all the thousands of images of Churchill, capturing his resolution, defiance and solidity, and, as Karsh noted, also his capacity for belligerence. It was not the only photo of Churchill taken by Karsh that day – he was allowed to take at least eight others, and one with Mackenzie King after Churchill had assumed a more benign attitude’ – but it is the one that fully deserves the overworked adjective ‘iconic’. It was the cover of Life magazine in May 1945 and became the defining image of him, and can be seen on the dust jacket of this book.

I’m glad Karsh had the courage to remove the cigar. It’s a great picture, the one on the cover below.


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  1. Great picture. Great story. Disagreeableness can often be taken for stern resoluteness. I understand he could be a bit of a Disagreeable man. I think what the world prob needs is more disagreeable men to stand against the evil in our world and say “No more. No further”


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