Wednesday 29 August 2007

The Roaring Lion stood still...THAT photograph

The world's most famous portrait photograph is arguably--nay, undeniably--that of Winston Churchill taken by Yosuf Karsh in the dark days of 1941. The photograph captured Churchill's defiant bulldog spirit and came to symbolise British defiance against Nazi tyranny.

The photograph was taken in Ottawa, Canada in December 1941. Churchill had just delivered his famous "Some chicken! Some neck!" speech on the floor of the Canadian House of Commons. Arm in arm with Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie-King, he left the chamber and strolled into the private rooms of the Speaker of the House of Commons, there to find a young photographer waiting with camera at the ready.

"Two minutes for one shot, and I mean two minutes for one shot," growled the British Prime Minister as he lit a cigar. However the photographer did not want to photograph the great man with his standard prop. He approached Mr. Churchill and with an apologetic "Forgive me, sir" he pulled the cigar from the bulldog lips.

"By the time I got back to my camera," Karsh later recalled, "he looked so belligerent he could have devoured me." Snapping the camera, Karsh captured Churchill's furious expression, an expression that would become one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. "You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed," said the Prime Minister. The portrait was splashed on magazines and newspapers around the world and since then has appeared on the stamps of several nations and has appeared in countless books.

The photograph established "Karsh of Ottawa" as one of the world's most gifted portrait photographers and his portfolio soon expanded to include persons such as Einstein, General Eisenhower, King George VI, Ronald Reagan and every Pope save John Paul I.

I had the honour to meet Karsh in the 1990s. I met him at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa, the historic hotel out of which he operated for many years. We had a short but pleasant exchange and he again recounted to me the details of his first meeting with Churchill.

Churchill plays an important role in my life. Since the age of 11 I have devoured almost every book written by or about the great man. I have served as a director of the International Churchill Society, Canada and continue to serve as a committe member of the International Churchill Society, United Kingdom. I have played Churchill on stage and I made him the the focus of my Master's thesis.

I therefore count amongst the memorable moments of my life, the privilege of receiving a seldom granted invitation to the private rooms of the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons so that I might stand in the exact spot occupied by Churchill on that historic occasion in 1941. This honour was granted to me by the current Speaker of the House of Commons, the Hon. Peter Milliken, whom I am now pleased to count as a friend.

I was first invited to the Speaker's Chamber on my birthday in 2001 (pictured above).

And here with Mr. Speaker (above).

Not happy with my original pose I returned from London in 2004 and tried to capture the pose a second time (above).

Here is Mr. Speaker with the then Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and Canada (Tony Blair and Jean Chretien) with their wives (above).

Here is Churchill.... Alone (above).

And this is the view that Churchill gazed at whilst waiting for Karsh to snap his photograph.

Karsh died in 2002 at the age of 93.


The Monarchist said...

Fantastic post, however here is a more generous illustration of its magnificence:

Benedictus said...

Years ago, I met a friend (now deceased) at a pub in Santa Monica called The King's Head on, of all days, the 4th of July. We sat under a painted copy of this portrait (or at least, one that looks much like it. The happy irony was not lost on either of us: dining on meat pasties on a day we commemorate the birth of our republic in an English pub, presided over by a portrait of one of Great Britain's greatest prime ministers, whose mother was an American!

My late friend, a Canadian, and I, an American, raised our pints of ale to Churchill, honored Her Majesty the Queen and my dear republic.

Robert Thomas Llizo

Anonymous said...

A royal birth and no comment?

I do hope all is well.

Merry Christmas.

Beaverbrook said...

Where, oh where, is our dear young fogey? Looking forward to your return some day.