Remembering Harry the Horse

Remembering Harry the Horse –

by Lola Koundakjian

 Two years ago I lost my father, Harry L. Koundakjian. He lived a rewarding life with an exceptional career.

 Born in Aleppo in 1930 to an Armenian Protestant family from Hasan Beyli, a mountainous region west of Gaziaintep, Turkey, Haroutioun was the eldest son. By the time he and my mother were married he had apprenticed in photography at Studio Hammad on Baron Street in Aleppo and at Vartan Derounian’s as a darkroom assistant in Beirut.

 Harry’s first big story was when the French cruise liner Champollion sank off the coast of Beirut in 1952 and Derounian sent him out with a Leica. Afterwards, he got a lift back from L’Orient ‘s news director, Emile Sioufi, who wanted to print his pictures of the sunken vessel and the survivors being pulled in to safety.

 Harry established photojournalism in the Middle East while at L’Orient and its Arabic sister publication Al-Jarida. His reputation grew and he freelanced for many agencies and international newspapers until the Associated Press hired him as a full timer in the 60s.

 Harry exhibited his work throughout his career. One of his first photo exhibits was at the American University of Beirut as Harry L’Orient Photographer. He had solo exhibits after his move to New York City, at Haigazian University and Aztag Daily in Beirut, at AGBU in Pasadena, Project SAVE in Watertown, Horizon in Montreal, and the City University’s Graduate Center in New York City.

 In the beginning of his career Harry tried various forms of photography: studio work, fashion events, even a circus’ gala at the Hotel Biarritz. While these are not as well known as his other work, I found contracts and requests in his papers after his death.

 Harry shared with his family many stories about his travels. He often spoke of the gentle people he photographed during his travels. He loved the fauna, flora and architecture of Yemen; many of his assignments included covering heads of state and politicians such as King Hussein of Jordan’s weddings; the coronation of the Shah of Iran; Sadat at the Suez canal; Assad with Nixon and Kissinger; Pat Nixon’s Goodwill tour in West Africa; Secretary of State Cyrus Vance visiting the Middle East; Queen Elizabeth in Turkey; Barbara Walters interviewing Arafat, and, Qaddafi with Tito in Libya. He also enjoyed taking pictures of artists such as Josephine Baker, Dizzie Gillespie and Louis Armstrong at the Baalbeck festival and Casino du Liban; Peter O’Toole filming Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 in Jordan, and Muhammad Ali Clay training in Lebanon in 1974. Harry was also present as the only Armenian photojournalist when the Armenian flag was raised for the first time at the United Nations in 1991.

 The job of the photojournalist is seldom about beautiful and powerful people. Harry covered a great deal of human suffering during wars, earthquakes in Iran and Turkey, and the 1970 cyclone in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh); the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and the 1977 Lufthansa hijacking in Dubai.

 Assignments in far away places meant being away from family for long periods as travel in those days was never easy and seldom included direct flights; press passes and visas had to be procured first, film had to be developed sometimes in the wild, and sent via dispatch or slow dial up telephone connections to editors.

 Harry’s stories had layers and flavors that sunk deeper with each telling. He was a raconteur but not a writer; he left many drafts of his autobiography and a room full of pictures and negatives.

 On November 19, 1970 AP staff photographer Arnold Zeitlin filed a portrait of Harry after the cyclone in East Pakistan surrounded by survivors, his face covered by a handkerchief because of the stench of decomposing humans and animals. It is my favorite picture of my father on assignment as it shows what photojournalism is all about: immediacy and full engagement.


Picture of Harry with William Saroyan, taken by 10 year old Lola, in 1972 at Haigazian College’s campus in Beirut, Lebanon.

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