Malak Karsh

Malak Karsh: “Keep a tulip close to you at all times”

The work of photographer Malak Karsh was recently celebrated with an exhibit and opening reception at City Hall’s Annex Gallery.

Photo: Stephen Thirlwall

Karsh arrived in Canada in 1937 from Turkey. Soon after settling in his new home, he began the mission of the rest of his lifetime. His theme was Canada, which he dearly loved. His approach was that of a photographic perfectionist, taking a huge number of photos across the country. Each picture told a story and provided some useful service, such as promoting the industrialism of the time that was strengthening Canada as a world nation.

For his photographs, Karsh received several awards and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Karsh was also a very accomplished writer. In 1941, his brother Yousuf suggested that he hire an artistic secretary to help with his artistic career. He ended up marrying Barbara, his life mate, who replied to the job advertisement.

In pursuing his passion for photography, Malak chose as his subjects the best landscapes, people and activities, and objects (e.g., tulips), capturing them in the best lighting. He travelled across the country, finding the best of Canada’s national scenery (natural, cultural, industrial, and urban) and made these familiar symbols for all Canadians: iconic and historic views of Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, the log drivers on the Gatineau and Ottawa Rivers, Patterson Inlet in the Glebe, cattle drives on the Prairies, hiking in the Canadian Arctic, Annapolis valley, St. John’s in Newfoundland, Minas Basin and other coastlines in Atlantic Canada, waterfalls in British Columbia, and so on.

These photos have shaped Canada’s image for both Canadians and the world, and set a standard for Canadian landscape photography.

On display at the exhibit were both the photograph of Parliament Hill behind log booms on the Ottawa River and its reproduction, which appeared on Canada’s $5 bill starting in 1974.

At times Karsh risked life and limb to capture the perfect shot (e.g., standing on a ladder on a floating log boom), according to Malak’s son Sidney and other presenters at the opening of the exhibit.

This exhibit (“Malak: a photographic love story,” based on Knowlton Nash’s book Malak’s Canada) celebrates the centenary of his birth (born March 1, 1915, died Nov. 8, 2001).

Karsh particularly loved Ottawa and signed all his photographs with his name and the word “Ottawa.”

Photo: Malak Karsh. Used with permission.

Photo: Malak Karsh.

Out of his growing sense of the environment and community building, and after the queen of the Netherlands’s gift to Canada of tulips, Malak pushed for and became one of the founders of the annual Tulip Festival, beginning in 1953. Eventually, the tulip was adopted as Ottawa’s official flower.

Jill Delaney spoke on behalf of Archives Canada, who house over 411,000 images taken by Malak Karsh between 1940 and 2001.

Sidney Karsh helped greatly in the organizing of all these photographs and negatives, as well as related notebooks and other items.

This exhibit itself came about through the collaboration of a group of organizations and individuals.

Michel Gauthier initiated and worked extensively on the project. Stephanie Germano with the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG), which hosted the event at City Hall, served as curator.

A couple, who are both art enthusiasts and friends of Karsh and his family, became patrons of the program. The ambassador of Turkey and his wife attended the opening of the exhibit. There are also plans underway to send this exhibition to Turkey.

Adapted from original article by Stephen Thirlwall on

For more information on the life and work of Malak Karsh please visit

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