Ottawa — just a picture. That’s not all.
Still, for Vincent Fortier, there’s something sad and hard to articulate about the fact that it’s gone.
The crime scene is a short distance from Fortier’s art gallery on the first floor of Chateau Laurier. Two gray armchairs lean against the paneling in a discreet nook of the hotel’s reading lounge.
Between Christmas Day and early January, hotel managers believe one of the most iconic photographs in Canadian history was stolen. This is a radiant Winston his Churchill original his print, photographed in 1941 by the legendary portraitist Yusuf Karsh. cheap imitations.
Fortier, who opened his gallery in the same year that Pierre Trudeau handed over the Constitution, has worked at the legendary hotel for 40 years. During that time he met Kirsch, who had an atelier and lived at the chateau with his wife Estralita for his 18 years until his death in 2002.
“He was a very nice man,” says Fortier, standing at his gallery desk in a blue dress shirt and rectangular glasses. I didn’t.”
Fortier saw evidence of Karsh’s proximity to giants and his talent for photographing their essence. Over the years, Kirsch commissioned Fortier to sell some of his original prints, photographs containing portraits of some of the most formidable figures of the photographer’s era: Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Georgia O’Keeffe and, of course, Winston Churchill.
Fortier is convinced that, at least in theory, photos stolen from the chateau’s reading lounge can be exchanged. He states that he sold four of his original prints of Churchill portraits from his gallery at the hotel. His last one was about 20 years ago, when he was $13,000 (USD).
Still, not being printed is a pain. For Fortier, Kirsch has deep ties to Ottawa and the chateaux. In short, Fortier says, “It belongs here.”
Stolen goods also have a history.
Back in the reading room, Jeffrey Buck circles the wood-paneled walls with his son Charlie. They removed the remaining originals of Kirsch’s portraits, including celebrities like Albert Einstein (painted in 1948) and Stephen Leacock (1941), for safekeeping while the hotel upgraded its security system. Staring at an empty place. Buck, a retired history teacher from London, Ontario. With a friendly demeanor and a good laugh, he says he’s visiting the capital to “geek out” with Charlie, a PhD candidate in political science.
Buck stops by a place where a portrait of Churchill used to hang, and says the lack of a picture left “this place in a vacuum” with bare walls. However, he adds, “If there is anything that can be said about Churchill, he was not sterile.”
Certainly not. He was a true historical figure, admired by his time, but condemned by some for his role in British colonial violence. Kirsch’s photo, which he once said changed his life, was taken during the most dramatic moment in the British Prime Minister’s life. when the British endured a months-long bombing campaign known as the ‘blitzkrieg’.
Kirsch’s portrait of Churchill was taken shortly after the British Prime Minister delivered a speech in the House of Commons in Ottawa. As Kirsch later recounted, he pulled a cigar out of Churchill’s mouth just before taking the picture. This image shows a belligerent man grimacing at the camera with one hand on the back of a chair and the other on his hip.
A copy that has been hanging in the original print’s place for months is almost indistinguishable from the photographed work. So what’s really lost? Why is sorrow overflowing? Perhaps because, unlike the copy, the stolen original was touched by the talented hand of the artist, one who pulled the cigar to the desired effect and released the shutter at just the right moment. Or perhaps the direct contact with history, an artifact of the very moment when Churchill’s gaze became emblematic of the spirit of resistance to wartime fascism, has worn off. A photograph, more than any other work of art, is the product of a precise moment. It is tangible evidence from upstream of the ever-surging river of time. And that quality of immediacy, which stems from the medium’s ability to transfer fragments of the past into the present, diminishes as the creation of the replica moves further away from the moment of its creation.
“You always lose something with change,” said Herbert Simard, a former civil servant who came to the chateau to show friends visiting where Churchill’s photograph was stolen. This idea got him thinking about how Ottawa has changed in his 40 years living here. An old Chicago-style building next to the hotel was demolished to make way for condominiums, Simard said. Even the rooms in which the photos were taken are changing, and a major renovation of the Center Block of the Capitol is underway and expected to continue for several more years. There is nothing, and everything that is solid dissolves in the air.
So don’t mourn over your famous photo prints being stolen. Its photos are rarely seen, but they are not unique and can be found endlessly in digital galleries on the Internet.
When Kirsch left the hotel in 1998, Fortier said: The chateau looked the same as usual, but something big has changed.
The original is gone.
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Absence of Needle in Stolen Winston Churchill Photo
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