Ara Güler is the internationally recognized photojournalist who continues to contribute to the promotion and enrichment of Turkey’s cultural standing. Referred to as ‘the Eye of Istanbul’, he identifies himself as a reporter eager to record history and culture through the presence of humans. There are no borders to his mastery. For him photojournalism is the perfect medium to reflect the reality and truth of the world, to capture and immortalize moments of life, memories, sufferings and histories; in comparison with art which is a medium that can lie.
During the 1970s, Ara Güler became interested in realizing portraits of famous celebrities, artists, and politicians. Names like Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Alfred Hitchcock, Maria Callas, Indira Gandhi and even Winston Churchill are part of his collection. His photographs are the testimony of the numerous relationships he developed and nurtured through both his personal and professional life.
Ara Güler has received many prizes and awards such as Turkey’s Photographer of the Century in 1999, France’s Légion d’Honneur, the Lifetime Achievement Lucie Award in 2009, and more recently the Nuremberg Honorary Award in 2017. Numerous books and articles have also been published on this singular individual that is Ara Güler.
His work was commissioned by the Stern, Paris Match, Time and many more. He equally joined Magnum Photos after personally meeting with Marc Riboud and Henri Cartier-Bresson. His photographs are now part of various institutions’ collections around the world. The most impressive aspect of his work relies on the diversity of his subjects. What he describes as an ‘archive’ is actually his accomplished collection of more than 800 000 artworks.
Ara Güler: Istanbul’s Visual Historian
Nabshi Center is delighted to announce its first 2019 event: a photography exhibition of the prominent Armenian-Turkish photographer, Ara Güler. Running from February 1 to March 15, the exhibition entitiled “Ara Güler, Memoir of a Lost History” will coincide with the launch of Ara Güler’s photobook, the premiere screening of Coşkun Aral’s documentary “The World as It Is,” and panel discussions on photography and the life and work of the late photographer. Tehran will be the starting point of Ara Güler Universal’s first touring exhibition.
Born in Istanbul to Armenian parents, Ara Güler is among the photographer whose visual experience and perseverance in taking photographs has become an inseparable part of the visual chronicle of his city, known to many through Güler’s images. Even though “the Eye of Istanbul” is a fitting title for him, as he photographed the modern Istanbul for decades, he preferred to be known as a citizen of the world and a universal photographer.
He considered himself to be, first and foremost, a photojournalist. In the early 1960s, he was recruited by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Marc Riboud for the Magnum Photos. Güler’s membership in the Magnum provided him with the opportunity to become familiar with the agency’s well-established standards. Shooting with Leica cameras, using black and white films, staying true to the “decisive moment” approach, and the social dimensions of his photography, are among the traits that he retained in most of his works after leaving Magnum. Despite the fact that, as a photojournalist, he was mainly concerned with capturing reality, the poetic quality of his images and his adherence to the principles of classical composition, make his photos simply “beautiful,” as Orhan Pamuk (the famous Turkish writer) has rightly observed. Thus, Ara Güler’s photographs can be appreciated by a wide range of audience, for they are interesting, eye-catching, and easy to grasp.
Ara Güler’s best known works are his visual explorations of familiar places (in Istanbul) through his lived experience. In his photographs of Istanbul, his profoundly inquisitive eye saw hidden layers and the nontouristic aspects of a city that is an international tourist attraction. Even though documenting the city’s buildings, harbors, and streets was important to him, he was particularly eager to record history and culture through the presence of humans. That is why he managed to capture the spirit of the city in his photographs by his untiring efforts. As one of Turkey’s most celebrated photographers, he shot portraits of politicians and artists such as Pablo Picasso, Sophia Loren, Salvador Dalí, and Winston Churchill, among many others. Interestingly, Güler distanced himself from the visual traditions of his social photography in these portraits, seeking to find new aspects in his photographic approach. Therefore, shooting from unconventional angles with shorter focal lengths are pointers to his efforts to find a personal viewpoint in shooting his portraits. It seems that photographing well-known figures paved the way for him to experiment and separate himself from the principles of photojournalism.
Nonetheless, his belief in capturing reality through the camera has led him to regard himself a “visual historian” rather than an “art photographer.” Güler’s works will certainly live on as precious visual documents of an era.