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This Happened—December 30: Roaring Lion Captured With A Click

The portrait of Winston Churchill was taken in 1941 by Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, as he was set to address the Canadian members of Parliament following action taken in World War II.

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Why is the Roaring Lion such an iconic photograph?

The portrait shows Prime Minister Winston Churchill with a posture and facial expression which rings very poignant for the time, as the U.K. was battling Germany and its allies during World War II.

Karsh, recounting the events later, said the prime minister had refused to put down his cigar, and its smoke was interfering with the image. Just before taking the photograph, Karsh said, "Forgive me sir," while snatching the cigar from his mouth. According to the photographer, "By the time I got back to the camera, he looked so belligerent, he could have devoured me". Following the photo Churchill stated, "You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed," giving the picture its name.

How did the success of the Roaring Lion affect Yousuf Karsh?

The photo effectively changed the photographer’s life. The Roaring Lion appeared on the cover of major magazine Life in the May issue of 1945. He is quoted as saying, “My portrait of Winston Churchill changed my life. I knew after I had taken it that it was an important picture, but I could hardly have dreamed that it would become one of the most widely reproduced images in the history of photography.”

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