top of page
  • Utopia 500

Ara Güler and His Magical Photography

Ara Güler is one of the most valuable names in Turkey and the greatest figure in Turkish photography as well as photojournalism, whose works are known worldwide. Güler always considered himself a photojournalist rather than a photographer and said, "I shoot what I see. A photographer and a photojournalist are very different. Photography does not need to be art. Photography is a historical event. You capture history. You stop history with a machine."

Photo: © Ayca Ogus


Ara Güler was born on August 16, 1928, in Beyoğlu, Istanbul, and died on October 17, 2018, in Istanbul at the age of 90. He was born into an Armenian family and began his journalistic career at the local Armenian newspaper. During his school years, he attended Muhsin Ertuğrul's theater classes and worked in all areas of cinema at film studios. In 1950, he started working as a journalist at Yeni Istanbul newspaper while attending the Faculty of Economics at Istanbul University. In 1958, he worked as a photojournalist for the magazines "Time-Life", "Paris-Match" and "Der Stern," after which he was the head of the photo department of Hayat magazine until 1962. In the same years, he met Henri Cartier Bresson and joined Magnum Photos, a company founded by Bresson. The Photography Annual, published in the United Kingdom in 1961, named him one of the seven best photographers in the world. In the same year, he was admitted to the American Magazine Photographers Association, becoming the only member of this organization from Turkey. In addition, he facilitated the discovery of Noah's Ship and the ancient city of Aphrodisias in Aydın and made the mountain "Nemrut" known to the world. He also traveled on photo missions to countries such as Kenya, Borneo, New Guinea, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, and other cities in Turkey. It will never be possible to write down everything he did during his lifetime because his life was full of colossal achievements. Güler was literally beyond being the first name that comes to mind when people talk about photography in Turkey. His photographs create strong memories and evoke strong emotions that people from all over the world can connect with. That is why he is known as the "Godfather" of photography.

Photo: Taken from Anadolu Agency


Istanbul Through The Eyes of Ara Güler


Ara Güler's "Istanbul" photos almost reek of history. The photos he took of everyday life in Istanbul in the 1950s and 1960s have remained as memories for us and for Istanbul lovers around the world. The black and white photos he took back then bring color into our lives, where everything has become ordinary and colorless. There used to be neighborhoods with grocery stores, blacksmiths, and cobblers. People talked to each other and sat in the streets, but all these real-life experiences have disappeared today. However, with Ara Güler, old Istanbul comes back to life every time we look at the photos, where you can teleport to those moments as well. They tell a story that is worth so much more than what is visible at first glance. It is as if every pixel of the photos has his name on it. He says, "I photograph a disappearing Istanbul, a dying city. I know this because it will disappear, and this must be shown. There is nothing left of the old city. The aesthetics of the city has changed. Civilization is advancing, but people have lost their sense of beauty." Here are some examples:


Kumkapı, 1950 / © Ara Güler


Çay Ocağı in Beyoğlu, 1958 / © Ara Güler


Galatasaray, 1960 / © Ara Güler


He Interviewed Many Renowned Figures In the World


He traveled all over the world, making photo interviews and publishing them through Magnum Photos. Some of the names he photographed were Bertrand Russell, James Baldwin, Winston Churchill, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Sophia Loren, Alfred Hitchcock, Marlon Brando, İsmet İnönü, and others.


Sophia Loren, 1966 / © Ara Güler


He conducted a photo interview with Pablo Picasso for the book "Picasso Metamorphose et unite," published on Picasso's 90th birthday. The celebration took place in Picasso's castle, and during the interview, Güler managed to take many photos of Picasso, who was known for not liking to be photographed. Picasso also painted Ara Güler's picture. He said, "I went to see him and stayed in his house for a few days. He turned to me all of a sudden and said, 'you take my picture. I'll also paint your picture.' Imagine, the greatest painter of all time wanted to draw me, but the guy is over 90 years old. I went looking for a blank piece of paper in case he forgot his promise after 5 minutes. I looked everywhere but couldn't find a clean page. Finally, I took a book from his library, opened the cover, and handed it to Picasso. He drew it, of course. He signed it, too. Then I looked and found that the book was antique. It was impossible for me to tear the page. I just took it and took it with me."

Picasso, Cannes, 1971 / © Ara Güler


Ara Güler was commissioned by Time Magazine to photograph Salvador Dali, one of the most famous painters of the century. Güler told Mark Grigoryan of BBC Russia his memories of Dali as follows: "Dali stayed at the Hotel Meurice on Rivoli Street in Paris. It was a big, expensive hotel. He lived in a huge suite. Room 101, I knocked and went in. Dali was standing there looking angry. We were literally nose to nose. Imagine that, Salvador Dali and I, nose to nose." He added that Dali asked Güler, "Why are you taking my pictures?" Güler replied, "Because you are famous." Güler then explained that Dali charged $25,000 for a 10-minute photo shoot and kept him on his toes for a month. Finally, Güler said, "Either we do the photos directly or I leave." So he managed to take photos of Dali the next day.


Salvador Dali, 1971 / © Ara Güler


Anatolian Photos


Anatolia in Turkey is literally the fragrance of history. Anatolia is the cradle of ancient civilizations and carries traces of cultural development from prehistoric times. With approximate dates starting from 4000 BC, Anatolia is an "open-air museum" with the surviving heritage of Sumerian, Hittite, Hatti, Urartu, Phrygian, Lydian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Turkish cultures. Anatolia is the place where many civilizations were born or grew up, and the way Ara Güler has captured the culture of Anatolia is truly magical and breathtaking.

Cotton Workers, Adana, 1968 / © Ara Güler


Güler's works are in the collections of institutions around the world, including the National Library of France in Paris, the George Eastman Museum in New York, The Imaginary Photo Museum, and the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery. In his opinion, photography should give people the memory of their suffering and their lives. He believes that art can lie, but photography only reflects reality, and that is why he prefers photojournalism. He inspired many photographers with his style and magical photographs that will be remembered forever.





33 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page