The Karsh masterworks from the 1930s illustrate particular influences early in Karsh's artistic life. From his beginnings in his uncle Nakash's photography studio, and continuing through the mid-1930s, the importance of Pictorialism is clearly visible. Beginning before the turn of the 20th century, Pictorialism's international influence was profound, with its practice of strong composition, soft focus and appeal to the power of sentiment. By 1933, Karsh had adopted an approach which, while retaining a strong and sculptural composition, featured sharply focused lines and subtly nuanced tones, resulting in images which possessed the qualities of both fine exhibition prints and successful reproductions in magazines and newspapers. While serving as the photographer for the Ottawa Little Theatre from 1933, Karsh witnessed the effects of theatrical lighting and direction and adapted these to his own portraiture practice.
Yousuf Karsh's experimental photography of the 1930s, resulting in such images as Elixir, 1938, and The Fringe of Winter's Mantle, 1938, helped to solidify the lighting and compositional direction of his portraiture style, which was mature as early as 1936. In his later years, Karsh continued to photograph a wide range of subjects, using powerful compositional lines to frame a clear message. Lancelot (George Guglielmo of Atlas Steel), 1951, and Farmer by his house, ca.1952, both grow out of these roots. Even Zulu Woman in Plaid Blanket (for the film Zulu), 1963, recalls his beginnings in theatre, transposed into the realm of film. Karsh's unknown personalities, as much as his masterworks, illustrate the unmistakable components of his style, both in development and in full maturity.