In this visually literate age we are bombarded by imagery. Since the advent of digital photography, the sheer number of photographers on the planet has grown exponentially. These days, everyone has a camera.
Yet the portrait occupies a unique place in photojournalism. It is artfully composed and rarely shot on the fly. In Yousuf Karsh’s day, when the Canadian portrait artist was working in his Ottawa studio, a portrait would require an appointment, an 8 x 10 camera and a black hood from whence the photographer would give muffled commands to the subject, who would be perched on a stool in front of lights set up just so. When portable cameras, lights and strobes were invented, the subjects began to relax and the portrait incorporated a sense of place. In the 1970s the natural portrait was in vogue, where the subject was not necessarily looking into the camera lens. The unposed pose was popular until the ’90s, when the paparazzi ruled. With digital cameras, ubiquitous by the 2000s, photographers in newsrooms are asked to show their frames on the spot. Yet it still comes down to the image. A well-shot portrait is so compelling you want to spend time with it.
From the thousands of images published in Maclean’s over more than a century comes Maclean’s Portraits, available on newsstands April 29. The special collector’s edition features the best work of Canada’s finest photographers, a selection of which are shown here. They can also be seen at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel as part of this year’s Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, running May 1-31.
As Karsh once said, “Within every man and woman a secret is hidden, and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can.” With the following photo essay and our special issue, we present some of the best revelations from the pages of Maclean’s.