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Matinee: Ara Güler, The Eye Of Istanbul Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

16 July 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 144th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Ara Güler, The Eye Of Istanbul.

We were about to make our Friday afternoon espresso and carefully carry it down into the bunker for our usual screening of potential matinee subjects when we heard the news. There had been an attempted military coup in Turkey.

Whenever we hear about another armed conflict, we remember the words of Paul, our Persian barber of many years. The afternoon kid show he always had on black-and-white TV in the barber shop was interrupted by a news bulletin reporting another war had started somewhere in the Middle East.

"It's the people who suffer," he said with the sad eyes of someone who had suffered. And by people he meant those whose greatest ambitions were just to make a living and, with a little help, raise a family.

So we thought a look at Ara Güler's Turkey would be timely. His haunting black-and-white images document Istanbul's history, giving some weight to his claim to be a visual historian. But his photography is about people.

The images are full of people. Of faces. The dignity of work. The pleasure of a coffee. A smile. You can see a low-resolution compilation of them here but for our matinee we picked a narrower subject.

He was fascinated as a child by the people from the art world who came to his father's pharmacy. And in the 1970s, when he was in his forties, he made portraits of many famous people in the arts and politics.

This eight-and-a-half minute slide show includes 43 of those portraits. Among them are the photographers Ansel Adams, Man Ray, Imogene Cunningham, Henri Cartier-Bresson and André Kertész. You'll also see Salvador Dalì, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder. And then there's Arthur Rubinstein, Alfred Hitchcock, Arthur Miller, William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Sophia Loren and Silvana Mangano. And Indira Ghandi, William Churchill and Josip Broz Tito. Among many Turkish notables as well.

Born in 1928 to ethnic Armenian parents, Güler's first love was the cinema and he found work in several film studios while studying drama. But he soon gravitated toward journalism and took up photography.

In 1950, he got a job with the Turkish newspaper Yeni Istanbul as a photojournalist while he was studying economics at the University of Istanbul.

In 1958 Time-Life opened an office in Turkey and Güler became its first correspondent. He soon was commissioned by other international magazines, including Stern, Paris Match and the Sunday Times of London. In 1961, he was hired by Hayat magazine as its chief photographer.

At the same time, he met Marc Riboud and Henri Cartier-Bresson, who recruited him to join Magnum Photos. In 1961, the American Society of Magazine Photographers made him the first Turkish photographer to become the member.

In 1968 the Museum of Modern Art in New York exhibited his work in Ten Masters of Color Photography. His photographs were also shown that year at Photokina in Germany. And so his career took off with assignments taking him to Kenya, Borneo, New Guinea, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and other Turkish cities.

In 1970s, he photographed the noteworthy artists and politicians that appear in this video. His archive is said to exceed 800,000 images.

His bio explains his approach to photography:

Ara's philosophy on photography is that he attaches great importance to the presence of humans in photography and considers himself as a visual historian. According to him, photography should provide people with memory of their suffering and their life. He feels that art can lie but photography only reflects the reality. He does not value art in photography so he prefers photojournalism.

You can see more of his work on his Web site and at Magnum. Ara Güler's Istanbul: 40 Years of Photographs can also still be found.

And then there is the trailer to the film The Eye of Istanbul:

The trailer shows some of his best work with appraisals by his contemporaries and ends with his own observation that the only place left for him to go now is hell.

If, that is, hell has not come to him.

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