Ara Güler of Istanbul
I’ve been meaning to write about one of my favorite photographers of Istanbul for months and months now but to write about him requires more depth of thought, the studying of his photographs and some research. Nicknamed the “Eye of Istanbul”, his name is Ara Güler of Beyoglu, Istanbul.
If there ever was a photographer who could conjure up the history of the city of Istanbul, then it would only be Mr. Güler. His photographs are visions of “times past” of a city which has experienced so much evolution . My favorite Turkish writer Mr. Orhan Pamuk used many of Güler’s photographs to illustrate his book “İstanbul, Memories of the City”. Mr. Pamuk describes the effect of Ara Güler’s work as leaving “anyone who knew the city during those years drunk with memories”.
His black and white photography shows the city of a man who, for years and years, has wandered his beloved streets, capturing the essences of the city before it became what it has become today. No one today could take the same kind of photographs as Mr. Güler because the modern world has slowly intervened and the past slowly vanishes in the smoke and fog of many early mornings.
His old photographs of old Istanbul remind me of a Dickensian scene, bleak, dark, smoky, the architectural skyline of Istanbul looms ghostlike and gray behind people who perhaps live no more. His characters in his photographs are people from another time, another century wearing clothes and hats we only see in old films today.
His photographs show an old world of darkly lit cobblestone streets, of bright sunlight shining on the waters of the Golden Horn or the Bosphorus, a fisherman, perhaps the Suleymani mosque looming in the background like an ominous shadow, beautiful decaying architecture that must have once known their days of old glory.
I first came to know the work of Ara Güler when I met for the first time, Mr. Nurdogan Sengüler of the Turkish Arts Organization, Les Arts Turcs in Istanbul. Nurdogan has a gallery of Mr. Güler’s works on his website and he gave me his permission to use these photographs.
Mr. Güler has lived all his life in Beyoğlu, a neighborhood of Istanbul. I heard that he has a café there. I would love one day to go to that café and meet Mr. Güler and sit and sip coffee with him. Maybe we could walk through those streets of his old Istanbul together and maybe he would teach my eyes to see through his eyes, to see what he captured so long ago. But perhaps that world has really vanished
Born in Istanbul in 1928, Mr. Güler grew up surrounded by people of the art world. He had decided as a young man to pursue a career in the cinema, but eventually, like all young people, changed his mind and decided to follow the path of journalism. He worked first for the Turkish newspaper Yeni and then moved over to the offices of Hürriyet. In 1958, he became a correspondent for Time Life magazine and later worked for numerous international media giants such as Stern, Paris Match and the Sunday Times. His circle of friends included Picasso, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Marc Riboud.
His prolific work of photojournalism garnered him exhibits at many museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, book illustrations, numerous magazine publications and international awards. Work took him to the many corners of the world to places such as Borneo, Kenya, New Guinea, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Iran. Ara Güler truly became of photographer who belongs not to one country but to the world.
He believes that a photograph must “convey an emotion, a thought”, it must be a living history” and that photographs show the truth. He does not consider photography to be an art but rather “a record of living history”. He considers himself a “visual historian”.
Ara Güler’s camera for those who are curious: a Leica.