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Faces of Ara Güler

Ara Güler captured icons - and created them.

November 2, 2018  |  by Anush Ter-Khachatryan

The iconic Armenian-Turkish photojournalist Ara Güler was not only a chronicler of the past century, but also an artist whose portraits of the famous, the infamous, and the unknown reflect a patient, passionate, and precise master at work. He died last month, but we will always remember Güler by his many faces.

1. Children playing in Tophane - Istanbul (1986)

Man and city — those are the subjects for Güler, who perceives both as organisms equally alive. In his 1989 photo taken in Istanbul’s Tophane quarter, Güler captures a group of children in their moment of cheerfulness. Most of the children are with open mouths and raise their hands at the sight of the Armenian photographer.

2. Alfred Hitchcock - Los Angeles (1974)

Güler recalled the tortuous 6-hour photoshoot with legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. At one point, when Güler positioned himself to take a photo with a focus on Hitchcock’s feet, Hitchcock snarled his disapproval. “If you are Hitchcock, I am Ara Güler,” the photographer thought to himself. In good time, Hitchcock got used to the Armenian and transformed into a cheerful old man.

3. Pablo Picasso - Cannes (1971)  

Güler spent four days in Picasso’s mansion in Cannes to photograph him. The master photographer and the celebrity artist had made a deal: Güler would take photos of Picasso, and Picasso would draw a picture of Güler. Naturally, they couldn’t find a piece of paper, so Picasso drew his picture inside a book from his library and signed it. Now, there is one original Picasso work in Güler’s house in Turkey.

4. Salvador Dali - Paris (1971)

“Why do you want to take my picture?” Dali asked, adding that he charged his guest $25,000 per minute. Güler left the hotel in Paris. Gathering his courage, he appeared again the next day and didn’t leave until he got this photograph of Dali delicately holding the silver handle of his cane.

5. Sophia Loren - Cannes (1957)

Güler was walking in the morning near the Carlton hotel in Cannes, when he saw journalists gathered in front of the main entrance waiting for Sophia Loren. He walked to the elevator and followed her to her room, asking if he could photograph her. This was one of them — and it remains about Loren’s most iconic images.

6. Indira Gandhi - New Delhi (1977)

In 1977 Güler photographed India’s former prime minister Indira Gandhi. On his way to Bangkok afterwards, he learned that Gandhi had been arrested. Consequently, Güler became the last person who’d taken her picture before her arrest. 

7. A bar in the Beyoglu district - Istanbul (1959)

“I'm a photographer of people, of events involving people, and what makes people what they are.” So it’s worth remembering that some of Güler’s most iconic photos weren’t of icons at all. They captured the people of his native Istanbul. It was Güler who elevated these ordinary working-classes faces to the level of art and myth. He made them into icons.

AUTHOR

Anush Ter-Khachatryan is a writer living in Yerevan.