Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Kind Eye

Beyond the glamour, bright lights, big crowds and all the commotion of Las Vegas, it's still a place where I'm always able to find some measure of inspiration or enlightenment. A recent trip for business was no exception. I was lucky to be there at the same time a very special show was going on at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. "Icons of the 20th Century" features the incredible photography of Yousef Karsh. I was only vaguely familiar with his work, but the moment I saw the promotional information I knew instantly that I had to go. The poster featured a photograph of Audrey Hepburn. It's one you've probably seen in a book, on the Internet or any number of other places it has popped up on occasion.
I've always liked this picture, but seeing the original up close in person was truly special. It's hard to find words to describe how I felt seeing this, and all the others, so I'm not going to try. I will just say that once in a very blue moon I have the privilege of viewing art that not only is visually stunning but causes an emotional reaction. This was one of those times.
Here's another example of how his photographs can stir up an emotional reaction -
How can anyone look at this picture and not feel something? It's a great example of Karsh's capacity for empathy, which was likely the result of him spending time getting to know his subject before making the photograph. It has been said he had a keen sense of the inner life of others. I believe that to be true. You can see it in every portrait. 
I also noticed that every one of his portraits is composed perfectly. Every pose, every background, as well as the lighting, is exactly right for each particular person. Every. Single. One. It's proof of just how good he was. Take a look at this one of Frank Lloyd Wright, father of "organic architecture" and considered by many to be the greatest American architect of all time -

See what I mean? And here's one more example - 

Who else could this be, other than Muhammad Ali? Composition, light and technique...perfect.

I read an essay on the website by Stephanie Simpson that provides an excellent perspective on Karsh's work. She wrote, "Karsh gained a reputation for having a kind eye. He watched carefully for moments of real emotion in his subjects. As soon as they appeared, snap! He pressed the shutter release without warning. No heads up, no countdown from three. Any moment was fair game." 

Hunter S. Thompson wrote about "the right kind of eyes" in (coincidentally) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But this is different. This is about a "kind eye." What a compliment it would be if ever someone said that about me! Maybe, if I ever can produce a portrait of someone with the same empathy as seen in these, that might happen. Maybe. 

Roger O'Dea   4-13-2016

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