Yunus Emre Enstitüsü

ARA GÜLER-Turkey’s Photo Journalist

Written by Hilmi Ersan

The photography legend Ara Güler was the photographic memory of the 95 years of Republic history. Ara Güler who was the master of narration, in other words cautious and meticulous story teller, opened his eyes to the world on a hot day of the August of 1928, in Taksim Drillfield.
His father Dacat Bey was born in Şebinkarahisar and his mother Verjn Hanım was the daughter of an established family that came from Egypt to Istanbul . He finished the school together with his close friend Süleyman Ferit Eczacıbaşı with whom he met when they were student at Pharmacy School, and he received the pharmacy certificate that looked like a rescript with its Ottoman Sultan’s signature. However, when the Çanakkale Wars started, Dacat Bey too, was assigned to this war that the Emperorship Turkey was fighting to survive, as a soldier in the Medical Company, but he got wounded twice in his leg. Thus, Ara Güler was a son of a veteran soldier.

I think, the destiny of everybody was shaped when they were a little kid. The first photo shooting of Ara happened in a studio where family photos were taken in Beyoğlu and his father maintained this tradition at odd times. I think this tradition would let Ara write his own life story. Fathers think of their kids more than themselves. Of course Dacat Bey too, by the finesse coming from his merchant mind, he realized his son’s idleness and by worrying that he would not finish his education, he wanted to value his son in his close friends’ businesses.
In fact, he made a request from his close friend and the owner of the İpekçi Film Company İhsan İpekçi and provided his son with a work as an apprentice in the film studios. When Ara Güler, who started to mingle with cinema at the İpekçi Film Studios, changed his interest, his father Dacat Bey bought a film screening machine.

Ara, who made silent movies first and then made them voiced, had to withdraw from this work when he started to skip school and fire broke out at the studio. Working in different fields, the real thing that changed Ara Güler’s life started with buying of his first camera Rolleicord II from Monsieur Kalimeros in the Tunnel.
Ara, who started to draw the attention of his surrounding when he started to shoot everything that came his way, talked about those days as this:
“I mean, I took pictures, ordinary stuff. Of course, never assume them as photograph. For example, I remember, once, a reflection dropped on water I took it. Like the beginners do now.”
When his enthusiasm of journalism surged, his first photos were published in the Jamanak Newspaper. Then, our character who started to work in one of the most influential newspapers of the time New Istanbul as a correspondent would gain a large network by hanging out with the prominent science and art people of the period. Ara who ignored his mother Verjin Hanım’s grievances as “What would do a journalist, is it an occupation?”, his life was changed actually when he met with journalism.

By beginning journalism occupation that let him be known in Turkey and worldwide, Ara’s environment changed, and he became famous worldwide by being supported by Sabahattin Eyüpoğlu who was a prominent person of the period. Visiting Eyüpoğlu’s house frequently, Ara Güler changed his style and said after many years “Thanks to Eyüpoğlu, my art perspective was changing, too. I found a world thanks to him.”

After finishing military duty, started to work in Hürriyet, one of the major newspapers of the period, Ara’s first photos were the underground and the tunnels of Istanbul. Meanwhile, he heard of the stay of Tennessee Williams, the great actress of A Streetcar Named Desire, in a hotel in Beyoğlu and achieved to make an interview with her. This first interview and acquaintance opened the fame doors to him, as well.

By meeting with Henri Cartier Bresson, He joined in Paris Magnum Photos. Then, he was labeled as one of the best 7 photographers of the world by the Photography Annual Anthology, published in Great Britain.
Ara Güler whose photos were displayed at the exhibitions “Glances to the Human’s World” opened in Canada in 1967, “Ten Masters of Color Photos” held in New York Modern Art Gallery in 1968, and the same year in Germany at Photokina Fair, took the photos of the famous historian Lord Kinross’s Hagia-Sophia book thanks to the advantage of this reputation.

However, he would gain his real reputation by making an interview with Picasso on the next day he took his photos in Cannes Film Festival from a distance, and this one would be different. Such that, he made a photo interview with Picasso for the book Picasso Metamorphose et Unite which was published for the 90th birthday of Picasso.
The indigenous photographer who pictured the book The Sixth Continent of The Fisherman of Halicarnassus (Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı) in 1991, for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made photo interviews by traveling the whole world and shared them with the whole world over the Magnum Photos:
Ara Güler who made interviews with and took the photos of so many famous people like İsmet İnönü, Winston Churchill, Indira Gandi, John Berger, Bertrand Russel, Bill Brandt, Alfred Hitchcock, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Salvador Dali, Picasso, was undoubtedly a great artist who centered “human” İn to his pieces.

Ara Güler was of course a global “photo journalist”, but at the same time, he was also a poet who made the story of the daily life, human views, day and night, summer and winter, joys and miseries of the city, the country (i.e. Turkey) he lived, through his lenses.
In all the photos he took in Turkey, profound stories were hidden, of course, and these frames told the story of the change and the transformation of Turkey that has gone through in the last 50-60 years.
Honestly, Ara Güler was not a historian or photography historian, but he was a significant photo journalist who served to a historian by photo frames of the half-century history of Turkey.
Ara Güler who was an exceptional and esteemed photo journalist of Turkey, and of course, of the world, preferred to enrich place and landscape by approaching “human” as the subject, rather than taking place and landscape photos. It is possible to say that almost all of his iconic photos focus on human.

About the author

Hilmi Ersan

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