Ara Güler, Turkey’s master of photography
ISTANBUL – Anatolia News Agency
Master of photography, Ara Güler has an archive of two million photos that he keeps in the third floor of an apartment inherited from his father. But he does not want a public museum
Selected as ‘one of the world’s top seven photographers’ by the British-based Photography Annual Anthology, Ara Güler defines a photojournalist as someone who carried the mirror of his own period to the next generations.
Ara Güler, the world-famous name of Turkish photography, has nearly two million photographs in his archive, and most of them have still never been shared. “I don’t want my archive to be fall into pieces. It contains many important things that we are not aware of,” Güler said, after opening his archive to the Anatolia news agency.
During a visit to his office in Istanbul’s Galata district, Güler spoke about his 62-year-old adventure in photojournalism.
Born in Istanbul in 1928, Güler worked in a number of branches of filmmaking in various studios. In 1950 he began working as a journalist for daily Yeni Istanbul.
A graduate of the Istanbul University Faculty of Economics, Güler also worked as the near eastern photojournalist for Time-Life, Paris-Match and Der Stern magazines. In 1953, Güler met Henri Cartier Bresson and joined the ParisMagnum Agency.
Selected as “one of the world’s top seven photographers” in 1961 by the British-based Photography Annual Anthology, Güler was also accepted as the only Turkish member of the American Society of Media Photographers the same year.
He has interviewed and photographed a number of famous people, including Turkish President İsmet İnönü, Winston Churchill, Indira Gandi, John Berger, Bertrand Russell, Bill Brandt, Alfred Hitchcock, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.
When asked if there was anyone else that he had wished to photograph, Güler said: “I could not reach a number of men that I wanted to photograph. I wanted to take photos of Einstein, but I was not ‘Ara Güler’ when he died in 1955, I was just an ordinary photographer. I could not take photos of Jean Paul Sartre either, because of my incompetence. Also, there’s Charlie Chaplin. These are important people.”
Güler defined a photojournalist as someone who carried the mirror of his own period to the next generations: “Photojournalists and photographers are always confused. We are not photographers, but photojournalists. We record our period and leave it to the next generation. This is not ‘being a photographer’ but ‘being a photojournalist.’ I am not a photography artist. Being an artist is different. I am fed up with this word ‘art.’”
He still takes photographs and always carries a camera with him. “I don’t know how many cameras I have, but it’s above 50. I don’t use an expensive $8,000 camera, but a $600 camera. The result is very beautiful, I like it,” he said.
Two million photos
Güler has almost 2 million photographs in his private archive and most of them have still yet to be shared. “I go to India and return with 400-500 rolls of films. You can give five to be printed only. When I go somewhere, I want to take photos of everything there,” he said.
He said his archive had been gradually digitalized and that most of his known photos were now available digitally. However, he has reservations about the effects of technology on the practice of photography: “Technology has made a great contribution to journalism, but it might not be good for photography. For example, I have attended the Cannes Film Festival 11 times. Can a news editor know everyone? I knew all artists because I took their photos. In the past, we used to take the rolls of film to the airport to send them to Istanbul. Someone from Istanbul used to come to the airport and take them. This was necessary for the publication of photographs. I remember that I once went all the way from France to England just to send one photo to Istanbul. It is very different now; you can see a photo right after it is taken.”
Güler said a photographer should know about what’s going on in the world in order to take a good photo. “A writer cannot be a journalist. A photojournalist is a real journalist.”
Discovery of Aphrodisias
Güler explained how he discovered the ancient city of Aphrodisias, which dates back to 500 B.C. in Geyre and bears the name of the goddess of Aphrodite: “I was working for Hayat magazine in 1958, and we went to the opening of Kemer Dam with the prime minister of the time, Adnan Menderes. We took photos and were trying to send them to the magazine, but our driver lost his way in the mountain at midnight. We found a café, but there was no electricity in the village. People were playing on stones from the Roman period. In the morning I wandered around the village and children showed me the ruins.”
When Güler returned to Istanbul, he sent the photos to Princeton University in the U.S. As his photos were published in various foreign magazines, the interest in Geyre increased. “The biggest magazine in the U.S., Horizon, asked for an interview. I returned to Geyre and took some more photos. Nobody knew about the place. Kenan Erim wrote the stories, and the book ‘Aphrodisias’ appeared. If I had not stumbled upon it, the ancient city of Aphrodisias would not have been discovered,” he said.
Opening his archive to show the photos of the Noah’s Ark, Güler showed the photos he took between 1959 and 1961. He told the story of the U.S. priest, John Levi, who came to Turkey in 1959 to find Noah’s Ark: “We followed him, and I took photos from a plane. The size of the ship in Bible was the same as the size of the hole that I photographed. The world was amazed. I can say that if it was indeed the trace of Noah’s Ark, I am the first person in the world who saw it and photographed it.”
Güler added that while working for Hayat magazine, he went to Adıyaman for an interview: “When I was looking at books in a library, I saw a book by Osman Hamdi Bey. It was written in French in 1901. There was a map in the book showing Adıyaman’s Mount Nemrut. I was curious about this place and took some photos after a nine-hour climb up the mountain on a mule. The photos have been published all around the world and the mountain became very famous.”
‘I don’t want a public museum’
Ara Güler with Salvador Dali
Güler has 58 books of published photos, but when asked if he wanted a museum for his archive, his dark room and his cameras to be displayed, he replied: “I don’t want a museum for people to visit. I show my archive to my friends and journalists during interviews. I don’t need to be known. I don’t want my archive to be fall into pieces after I die, as it contains many important things that we are not aware of. It is a big job to organize an archive; a photojournalist does not do it. I don’t have an archive team.”