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What We Learned This Week: Remembering Ara Guler, the "Eye of Instanbul"

By David Schonauer   Thursday November 8, 2018


Ara Guler once worked as a cinema projectionist.

Watching films at the Yldz Cinema in Istanbul proved to be wonderful training for the man who would go on to be the foremost photographer of the city.  “A photograph, too, has a mise-en-scène,” Guler said in “The Eye of Istanbul,” a 2015 documentary about his life and career. “A photograph has a background.” Guler, who died in October at age 90, “reflected the shadows and sparkle of Istanbul,” declared The New York Times in announcing his death.

This week we took note of a tribute to Guler in The New Yorker, where writer Eren Orbey praised Guler’s “poignant, majestic” images for preserving a vision of Turkey that began to vanish early in the photographer’s lifetime.

“In his most famous shots, black-and-white cityscapes from the nineteen-fifties and sixties, couples rush through back alleys flanked by wooden homes,” wrote Orbey. “Horses pull carts down cobblestone streets, and skiffs crowd the waters of the Golden Horn, a bustling harbor since Byzantine times. Throughout the twentieth century, Guler’s œuvre interpreted Istanbul for a Western audience without ever exploiting its residents.”

Meanwhile, at The New York Times Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature, also honored Guler, with whom he often collaborated. Pamuk first met Guler in 2003, when he was consulting the photographer’s archive of 900,000 photographs to research his book Istanbul.

“The photographs I wanted for my book were not those famous Ara Guler shots everyone knew but images more attuned to the melancholy Istanbul I was describing, the grayscale atmosphere of my childhood,” Pamuk wrote. “Ara had many more of such photographs than I expected. He detested images of a sterile, sanitized, touristic Istanbul.”

In fact, noted Pamuk, Guler’s “attentiveness to the inhabitants of Istanbul’s back streets” allowed the writer to discover a city he had never known. “It was through Ara’s urban reportage photography, which appeared in newspapers in the early 1950s, his portraits of the poor, the unemployed and the new arrivals from the countryside, that I first saw the ‘unknown’ Istanbul,” he wrote.

In its obituary for Guler, The Times noted that the photographer himself once described Istanbul as a sort of “Madwoman of Chaillot” who had grown old but never neglectful of how she looked: “Touch her, he said, ‘and a jewel will appear.’”

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:
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1. Growing Old Amid Shelling and Frostbite in Ukraine


“To look at Paula Bronstein’s images of the elderly people trapped in Ukraine is to see lives frozen by conflict,” wrote Elizabeth D. Herman at The New York Times. Bronstein (see our profile) has covered the long war in Afghanistan and the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh; her new work, “Ukraine’s War: A Dire Situation — The Elderly,” looks at the conflict in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, which has resulted in more than 10,000 deaths and the displacement of 1.6 million people.


3. David Stewart's Arch View of the Ad World in "Paid Content"


"There is nothing stranger than what I see in real life." So says photographer David Stewart, whose latest body of work, we noted, focuses (sharply) on a world he has known intimately with for the past four decades - advertising. His series "Paid Content," on view at the Wren London gallery through November 17 and coming soon in a new book, takes a wry look at the environment of a modern ad agency.


3. Jean-Pierre Laffont's "Extraordinary" NYC


Jean-Pierre Laffont left France and moved to New York City in order to become a photojournalist. In 1968 he and his wife, Eliane Laffont, opened the American bureau of the French photo agency Gamma, and he went on to have the kind of career he’d dreamed of, notes The New York Times. An exhibition opening this week at the Leica Store in SoHo, “New York Down and Out,” features Laffont’s photographs of the city from the 1960s and 1970s, which the photographer calls an “extraordinary for photojournalists in America.”


4. Rediscovering Photographer and Mountaineer Anne Brigman


Anne Brigman was ahead of her time. The Nevada Museum of Art in Reno has organized a major retrospective of the overlooked photographer, poet and mountaineer — a protegee of Alfred Stieglitz best-known for her ethereal nude self-portraits. We noted that the exhibition, the largest presentation of Brigman's work to date, aims to reintroduce this female creator who, said curator Anne Wolfe, was "stripping off her clothes and scaling mountains at a time when women were still confined to Edwardian corsets.”


5. A Photographer Makes the Case For Hemp


Hemp is the world's most forbidden flora, says Maren Krings. That's because it happens to be the cannabis plant. A German-born photographer who studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, Krings was shooting in the Tyrol of region of northern Italy when she met a man whose business was farming industrial hemp. She has since become a believer in the plant's future, we noted. Krings is now crowdfunding a book called HEMP: The Seed for a New World.
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At top: From Anne Brigman

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