Turkey's memory Ara Gürel


One of a handful of master photographers in the whole world, Ara Güler's photographs are like an illustrated encyclopedia of Turkey...

Ara Güler is not a photojournalist who has spent his life chasing after daily events or following popular currents; instead his work is more like that of an archaeologist conducting digs to illuminate the future. Abidin Dino put it best when he said, "Ara wanted to preserve the image of his country's people from oblivion. He had a surprising sense of responsibility, as if he would be personally held to account if they were forgotten. What a tremendous effort, what self-sacrifice!" This creative man, whose work was once poohpoohed in his own country, already in those days had put his signature on a number of momentous shots that have gone down in world history. We can say of Ara Güler that he not only captured the things he saw in photographs, he actually created them anew by blending them in an idiom of his own invention. In his portraits in particular he seems to have recast his subjects in a new form by turning a wide-angle lens on people in an approach that had until then been considered taboo.

This approach to portrait photography can be regarded as Ara Güler's contribution to the world photography tradition.


Ara Güler's writing is as powerful as his photography. The writer Ara Güler was always held quietly in reserve, never allowed to upstage the photographer; and he was reconciled to staying in the wings. But whenever the writer within emerged from the shadows, the quality of the writing in his books was always consistent with that of the photographs. Ara Güler is also a stickler for principles. Always fair to his contemporaries, he has never misrepresented the period to which he feels he belongs, the twentieth century. And therefore he feels strongly that no trace of that period should vanish either by chance or by default. Yet he doesn't coddle his subjects, and when necessary can even omit a cinematic genius like Alfred Hitchcock, of whom he shot a series of outstanding portraits.

Personally he has no doubt that Hitchcock did great things but nevertheless places him among those who 'have not left a sufficient imprint on humanity'. Ara Güler is known for having supreme confidence in his own judgement. And if his pronouncements are occasionally over the top, you have to remember that great masters are also human. He takes absolutely no interest in abstract or artsy photography, going so far as to 'question whether or not such pursuits contribute in any way to civilization.' In his view, they are all part of a game. And this game does not suffice to describe the process of human development and the human adventure.


"A photograph should above all else portray something. The game-playing aspect of photography isn't for me. I'm a photographer of realities. There's a world revolving around me and when there's something in that world that gives me great pleasure, that sparks emotion, I click the shutter.

As a photographer of people I want to record everything pertaining to them-their joys, their dramas, their way of life, their fears. Because I regard myself not as a photographic artist but as a photojournalist, what is more important than aesthetics for me is documentation itself," says Ara Güler, whose life achievement as a photojournalist has been more that of a social geographer or an archaeologist. Through a mere three photo-features he appears to have taken on the role of honorary ambassador for promoting Turkey abroad. When his first features on Aphrodisias, Nemrut and Noah's Ark came out, they aroused great interest outside the country, appearing in the world's leading magazines in rapid succession. While photographing the construction of a dam in the province of Aydin for Hayat magazine in the 1950s, Ara Güler gets lost on the deserted country roads. When he finally comes upon the village of Geyre in the present-day township of Karacasu in the middle of the night, he stops at a roadside coffeehouse to ask directions. The first thing he encounters in the midnight twilight is what seems like a sketch of the today's Aphrodisias archaeological site and museum.

Ara Güler reaches for his camera, and the photos are published outside Turkey. Later, when the as yet unknown archaeologist Kenan Erim appears one day at the door of Ara Güler's studio in Istanbul Beyoglu, the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. Following his report, the Aphrodisias excavations are resumed, excavations that have changed the way the classical period, the acknowledged basis for Western civilization, is viewed today and underscoring once again the possibility of historical approaches other than the Anglo-Saxon, as if to vindicate the memory of Ara Güler's friends and cohorts, Cevat Sakir, the 'Fisherman of Halicarnassus', Azra Erhat, Sabahattin Eyüboglu and the other originators of the 'Blue Cruise'.


Those who would like to see the fruit of so many years’ work will now get a fresh opportunity. A retrospective entitled ‘Ara’dan Yetmis Yedi Yil Geçti’ (‘Meanwhile Seventy-seven Years Passed’) in a play on his name, Ara, which also means ‘an interval of time’, was mounted last month at the Fotografevi Gallery in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district. And a book of the same name was published to coincide with the exhibition. For those who haven’t yet lost their sense of curiosity, this book brings together a gargantuan output into which a whole life has been poured—from mementoes of old Istanbul in tones from classic black and white to the lost colors of melancholy, to portraits in whose faces the vagaries of the century can be read and brilliant color series shot in foreign countries. It would be no exaggeration to say that if Turkey had not had her Ara Güler, much would have been lost forever.

Please note: None of the material on these pages is hosted by the Turkish Radio's server. These are simply reference points for your convenience. To see the material at their original locations, right click on it and choose "Open Link in New Window".

  • Also note: You can now listen to our program LIVE directly from our pages. Click on the "You can also listen to us via internet" link on our main page!
  • For audio archives of our broadcasts go to: http://turkradio.us/ar/archives.html
  • Recommended Guide Books
    Please note: None of the material on these pages is hosted by the Turkish Radio's server. These are simply reference points for your convenience. To see the material at their original locations, right click on it and choose "Open Link in New Window".