The Search for a Master’s Legacy – Yousuf Karsh & John Garo || By Mehmed Ali


When President Calvin Coolidge was asked to choose between the artist John Singer Sargent or the photographer John Garo to make his official presidential portrait, Coolidge chose Garo. Although unknown today, in the early years of the twentieth century, Garo was a nationally acclaimed photographer, a leader in the thriving Boston photographic community. Cultured and charming, Garo also painted watercolors, wrote poetry and counted among his friends luminaries in the worlds of music and theater. It was to this humanistic atmosphere of Garo’s sky lit studio that the fledgling photographer, Yousuf Karsh, a survivor of the 1915 Armenian Massacres, was sent by his uncle George Nakash, to be Garo’s apprentice. Garo was a nurturing and encouraging mentor. His three years with Garo transformed young Karsh’s life and influenced his original desire to portray those personalities who made a positive impact on our world. Garo died in 1939, a victim of the Great Depression, ill health and changing photographic taste. Karsh, then still a struggling photographer in Canada, was devastated to discover Garo’s studio ransacked, and many of this portraits missing. Thus began a forty-year odyssey by Karsh to discover his mentor’s portraits, and preserve them for posterity. Drawing on meticulous research and on Karsh’s personal correspondence, Mehmed Ali brings to life this intensely human journey, and the little known story of Garo’s stellar role in the history of photography in New England.