In a time of glossy and glamorous portraits where even the slightest blemish is photoshopped away, one man reminds us that part of our humanity is our flaws. Yousuf Karsh may have passed away in 2002, but his ability to capture the essence of his subjects through their portraiture remains. And he did it, with far less technology and lighting equipment.
On loan from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art has given a home to 61 vintage and contemporary portraits of some of the most recognized faces in history. Political figures like Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy line the walls along with Hollywood’s elite Clark Gable, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, to name a few. There’s even royalty. The Queen of England herself, Elizabeth II has a portrait hanging in the gallery, though at the time of the photo she was Princess Elizabeth.
The black and white portraits have a distinct common thread: their imperfections. We often don’t associate history’s most influential figures with the lines around their eyes or the porous skin on their nose. Yet there they are. The beauty in each photo isn’t just due to correct composition and lighting; it’s the depth and texture that Karsh so easily captured, often in just a handful of shots.
It’s surreal to see such prominent figures stripped away from our associations of them. Muhammad Ali out of the ring, Elizabeth before she became the Queen of England, the deeply lined face of an old man with his glasses, George Bernard Shaw in his home in 1943. The intimacy is unmistakable, their expressions captured as if there was something they needed to say. They represent a single moment, an expression, frozen in time for the rest of the world to see.
The new collection marks the first time in nearly a decade that the gallery has featured a photography exhibit. There’s even a nod to the gallery’s most recent artist and exhibit. Karsh snapped a portrait of Pablo Picasso, posed with a piece of his own work in ceramics at his villa in 1954. That photo, along with many other prominent artists, hangs in the gallery.
The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets for “Yousuf Karsh: Icons of the 20th Century,” which can be seen until September 5, 2016, are $16.
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