“People learn things by looking, seeing and living, yes? I too looked, saw, lived and learned.
I’ve done my suffering too.”
Known as “The Eye of Istanbul”, the late photograph artist Ara Guler was born in 1928 to an Istanbulite family. Guler’s interest in the visual world started very early. During high school years, he had been working at film studios when he became Muhsin Ertugrul’s student. Young Ara was also interested in theatre and literature. He wrote short stories and stage plays in high school too. In those years, the desire to marge the visual world with literature drove his interest in cinema. Nevertheless he couldn’t get quite satisfied with it, as cinema required quite a lot of editing to get right. He was after his own story, built on those “moments”. His spent his youth seeking what’s good for him. It wasn’t long before he discovered that the visual world of photography was the best way of expression he could use.
Ara Guler made his debut in the Turkish press as a professional photographer in 1950, when he started working in the newspaper Yeni Istanbul (New Istanbul) as a photojournalist. At the time he was still a student in Istanbul University’s Faculty of Economics. Yeni Istanbul had a high level of international awareness, and this led to global recognition in press photography circles for Ara Guler as his many beautiful photographs started to show up in the newspaper.
The artist became photography department chief in the Hayat Periodical in 1954. In 1958, when he went to Aydin to take photographs for the journal, he would actually take photographs of the ancient Geyre Village, which was built upon the city of Aphrodisias and by doing so, greatly contribute to one of the most important developments in the history of architecture. In the same year Guler also took photographs for world-renowned periodicals such as the American Time and Life, French Paris and Match and German Der Stern. During the 50s and 60s photojournalism became more important as it was the primary channel through which events happening in one corner of the world could be expressed to another. According to Guler, one of the most important works in his career as a journalist was the photographing of Noah’s Ark in 1960. Distributed by the Magnum Agency and used by every renowned press organ in the world, this photo-interview sold more than 100 copies at the time.
The artist was named as one of the seven best photographers in the world in 1961 by the British “Photography Annual Anthology”, and he was the only Turkish member admitted to the American Society of Media Photographers in the same year. In 1962 Guler also enjoyed the honour of becoming a “Master of Leica”, a title given in Germany to very few photographers. By the end of the 60s he was a world-renowned photographer who had special interview pages on magazines, had his name written in international anthologies and works displayed in international exhibitions. His photographs accompanied many articles and publications in the areas of art and art history; world-famous publishing houses used his photographs. The book “Hagia-Sophia” by Lord Kinross, published in 1971, was only one among this many.
In 1975 Guler took a 16mm supernatural movie titled “The End of the Hero”, which was about the scrapping of the Yavuz battleship. He was invited to the US in the same year. There he took photographs of many celebrities, which he would later display in the “Creative Americans” exhibition in many cities in the world. Throughout his photography career, Guler photographed and interviewed many important names such as Ismet Inonu (the first Prime Minister and second President of the Turkish Republic), Indra Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock, Salvador Dali, John Berger and Picasso. During the 70s and 80s Ara Guler travelled to every corner of the world, from Pakistan to Kenya, New Guinea and Borneo.
In 1979 he was awarded first place in the “Photojournalism” category of the Turkish Journalists’ Association awards. Some of Guler’s photographs reached enthusiasts thanks to the book “Photographs”, which was published by Karacan Yayincilik in 1980. In 1989, the book Ara Guler’in Sinemacilari (Ara Guler’s Cinematographers), which contained photographs of 60 cinematographers taken by Guler in festivals and interviews since 1950, was published. His books Eski Istanbul Anilari (Old Memories of Istanbul), Bir Devir Boyle Gecti (So Came and Went an Era), Yitirilmis Renkler (Lost Colours) and Yuzlerinde Yeryuzu (Earth on their Faces) were photography anthologies published in the 90s. The same decade also saw books with Guler’s photographs published overseas. The best example of this the book titled “Sinan, Architect of Soliman the Magnificent” which was dedicated to the works of Sinan the Architect and published by “Edition Arthaud” in France and by “Thames&Hudson” in the USA and the UK in 1992.
Guler was titled “Lejion D’Honneur; Officier Des Arts Et Des Lettre” by the French government in 2002 and “La Médaille de la Ville de Paris” by Paris city hall in 2009. He was also awarded the Grant Award of Culture and Art by the Turkish Republic Presidency in 2005, the Culture and Art Service Award by the Turkish Culture and Tourism Department in 2008, the Outstanding Service Award by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 2009, the Lifetime Honorary Award by American Lucie Awards in 2009 and the Grant Culture and Art Award by the Turkish Culture and Tourism Department in 2011. He received honorary PhD degrees from Yildiz Technical University in 2004, from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in 2013 and from Bogazici University in 2014.
Ara Guler is now globally regarded as one of the most prominent representatives of creative photography. On 16 August 2018, which is 90th birthday, the Ara Guler Museum and Ara Guler Archive and Research Center were opened. In the same year, on 17 October 2018, Guler passed away at 90.
The artist’s photographs are on display at the French National Library in Paris, George Eastman Museum in New York, the Sheldon Art Museum collections in Nebraska University, and Museum Ludwing and Das Imaginaire Photo-Museum in Cologne.
About the Izmir Ara Guler Exhibition
A collaboration between Arkas Art Center and Ara Guler Archive and Research Center, the exhibition will open on 22 February 2020 in Izmir. Open until 31 July 2020, the exhibition consists of three sections, namely Ara Guler’s best known photographs, Izmir photographs and Literature Portraits. The part on Izmir involves never-before-exhibited Izmir scenes from 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s and classic Izmir photographs by Ara Guler, photographs which portray the gradual changes in ancient cities such as the Smyrna Agora, Ephesus, Pergamon and Allianoi over the years. The Literature Portraits section includes the 100 Faces, and the exhibition will also include photobooks of Ara Guler for the visitors. Scenes from Guler’s life, photographs from his family album and some of his personal effects will also be on display.
The exhibition will also be home to conversations on the photography of Ara Guler, his art and his works together with activities for children, thanks to collaborations between Izmir Metropolitan Municipality’s UNESCO Literature Office and 9 Eylul University’s Fine Arts Faculty, Photography Department.
Ara Guler defined himself as a Photojournalist and a Visual Historian
In an interview, Ara Guler explains himself “I am a photojournalist. I am not a photographer, let alone an artist. I just shoot what I see. I don’t do art. It is only natural that I convey what I see to other people. This is photojournalism. A photographer and a photojournalist are two very different things. When a bomb explodes, the photojournalist rushes to the epicentre. A photojournalist creates the history through their camera.”
Guler believes that photography is pure magic which captures a moment in life and extends it onto following centuries “No human being without love; no photography without a human being” was his motto which placed the human being at the centre of his photography.
Theatre classes from Muhsin Ertugrul since high school, first degree in a story competition, organizing stage plays, putting up movies in movie theatres… These are maybe a bit too long actions for Ara Guler… But to stay behind the shutter button and communicating face to face with your subject, capturing the very atmosphere in its harmony, incorporating all of this into a message that is your photograph…
In Ara Guler’s words “I am the photographer of the truth. There is a world which revolves around me, when I see a most emotional, most enjoyable phenomenon I press the shutter button. And don’t forget, I am a journalist. I am a journalist and I follow up everything that goes on. So I have a keen eye; I photograph anything which I believe is very important, even if it completely lacks any aesthetics. To me the event, the “moment” is crucial. The event must not be missed. As a photographer of people, I want to record the joys, the drama, the lifestyles, the fears, the *everything* of human beings. I consider myself a photojournalist rather than a photo artist, so I value the documentation itself more than aesthetics. What’s really important to me is conveying people’s drama to the next centuries. Because a photograph is a means of record and a drama must carry a message, so there is a conclusion. That’s when a photograph is appealing. I consider myself a historian who records the very era he lives in. We write the visual history. A cinematographer portrays their own thoughts, they don’t need justification. However, a photograph is a physical part of reality itself. Art is what one contemplates, it may not really exist. Art is but a lie. Oscar Wilde expressed the nearly same thing. A photograph, on the other hand, captures what’s actually there and grabs the aesthetic, a moment, a drama in it. In this sense, it is fifty times harder than cinema to do. And it is much more durable, solid and effective.”