Ara Guler

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Dialects Western Armenian

"There is an absolutely great photographer who is ethnically Armenian, Ara Guller. He is called the live symbol of Istanbul . Of course, in Turkey no one mentions that he is an Armenian but they worship him and there is the cult of Ara Guller. He is very famous all over the world. He shot the portraits of many famous and great people. He photographed Churchill, Fellini, Sofi Loren and Brigit Bardot but his most famous work is of Istanbul starting from middle of the last century. In 1960, he was the first to photograph the statutes of Gods – Armenian Gods – on the Mountain of Nemrut . He was also the first when he was charged with the task by the Turkish Army of photographing what is considered the remnants of Noah's Ark. Most of all, he was proud of these two photographs because these two features opened up the world for him. I filmed him for a documentary film about Turkey and this is what he said.” No need to confuse the flags under which we live, the language we speak with the heart that beats in the same way in everyone when the colour of our blood is the same. An artist belongs to the world that understands and loves him and not this or that nation.”

Yelena Kurdiyan, Gagik Tadevosyan "

ARA GULER: Visual chronicler of our age


One of the foremost figures of international creative photography, Ara Guler, declares that photography is more important than art and defines it as "the visual chronicling of contemporary history."

I went to see the photographer Ara Guler at his studio in Galatasaray. On the walls were portrait photos by Ara Guler of some of the most famous names in the world, bearing the signature of subjects who include Picasso , Salvador Dali and Ismet Inonu.

On another wall was a facsimile print of a drawing given to Ara Guler by Picasso. "I keep the original elsewhere," he explained. "It is extremely valuable. I have been offered thousands of dollars for it." Ara Guler's archive in the section of the studio he uses as a darkroom contains thousands of negatives and transparencies in boxes. Classified according to country, region and subject, labels testify to a life spent travelling throughut the world: Iran, Kenya, Kazakhstan, New Guinea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Borneo, to name but a few. One box bears the tantalising label "Head Hunters", and many others record journeys into regions which remain remote and inaccessible even today.

Still other boxes belong to famous statesmen and artists from all around the world, and there is an exhaustive collection covering virtually every region, monument and palace of Turkey. Each box contains hundreds of frames bearing witness to events and life.

How many negatives and transparencies are there altogether in the archive, I wondered? "I reckon around eight hundred thousand, but it is impossible to count them all," explained Guler. Then there are the photographs he has sent to publcations he works for, such as Time, Life, Paris Match, and Stern, not to mention those distributed around the world by Magnum Agency. Guler cannot keep track of which magazines have published which photographs.

"I cannot remember whether a magazine in Brazil whose name I have never heard of has used my photograph, for instance. It is impossible."

Ara Guler was born in Istanbul in 1928. His father owned a pharmacy on Istiklal Caddesi and his wide circle of friends from the art world of the period included Muhsin Ertugrul, founder of modern theatre in Turkey, as well as budding business tycoons such as Vehbi Koc, whose office was just down the street.

His early acquaintance with Istanbul's art world motivated Ara Guler to embark on a career in cinema.

At first he worked in film studios and attended Muhsin Ertugrul's drama courses.

Before long, however, he abandoned cinema in favour of journalism, joining the staff of Yeni Istanbul newspaper in 1950, and later transferring to the famous Hayat magazine.

In 1958 he did his first overseas commissions for Paris Match and Stern, and in 1961 was listed among the world's seven best photographers in a photography annual published in Britain.

Since then he has received countless awards, his work has been the subject of exhibitions and special supplements, and the world's most famous publishers have featured his photographs.

In 1968 his photographs were on display at the Modern Art Exhibition in New York, and in 1975 he made a brief return to cinema with a surrealistic 16 mm film entitled "End of a Hero", about the dismantling of the "Yavuz" warship. His photographs have ilustrated over twenty books, including "Ara Guler's Creative Americans", "Ara Guler, Photographs", Ara Guler's Film Makers", "Sinan, Architect of Suleyman the Magnificent", and "Living in Turkey".

The conversation then turned to the photograph itself, and I asked him for his views on effects produced by computers, and images obtained by developing several films one on top of the other.

Guler was dismissive: "These are technical devices. I do not regard them as photographs.

Photography is real. Photography captures a facet from our lives, and a good photograph must have something to say. When a photograph conveys an emotion, a thought, then it is a real photograph."

So what about the relationshp between art and photography? What kind of an art is photography? Ara Guler has a controversial answer: "photography is not an art. It is more important than art.

We photographers are chroniclers who record the visual history of our age. Look at 19th century photographs. They give us the truest glimpse of that century.

Historians are bound to incorporate a degree of emotion and imagination into their writing, but photograps show the truth.

That is why they are greater than art. Photographs are living history. Art is not real , it is contrived, fictitious.

Hamlet dies on the stage every night Why? Because theatre is fictitious. Photography is the truth. If Hamlet dies I can only photograph him at the moment of death.

Darkroom tricks are not for me. I could take four pictures and play around with them as much as I liked, creating collages. But then the results would not have anything to do with reality. Photography is realty above all else."

So what does Ara Guler think of the phrase, "photographic artist"?

"How can a photographer be an artist?

The photographer is a man in pursuit of the truth." At that cue we began to discuss the truth which Ara Guler has gone in pursuit of.

His fascinating anecdotes often beat any adventure film for excitement:; how his car was surrounded by 24 lions on the way to photograph the Masai, one of Africa's most warlike tribes; his journey through virgin forest to find the head hunters of Borneo, starting in four-wheel drive vehicles and continuing by canoe when the track ran out; a story of armed guards, crocodiles, snakes, and his two rusty but precious Leica cameras.

At this point I interrupted him to ask how many cameras he had altogether.

"Forty or forty-one," Ara Guler replied. "That is not so many, if you reckon I have been taking photographs for forty years- one a year.

Some of them are designed specially for particular functions such as underwater photography, or capturing the fine detail of historical document in museums."

Some of them are old models, and on the wall of the darkroom hang the huge flash lights as big as saucepan lids which he used to use in the early years.

Ara Guler's favourite part of the world is the Pacific. He blames the western world for all the afflictions of the world today, and describes the people of the Far East as "warmhearted". Of Turkey, his home, Ara Guler comments favourably, too:

"We are a good country. Our people know how to cry." What is it that sends Ara Guler in search of adventure and even danger, to Africa and Central Asia, and to the remoted corners of New Guinea and Borneo? Places where attack from wild animals, malaria, and other risks are ever present. "I feel like an explorer.

You must discover these places for yourself. That is the first objective of the journalist, to be today's Christopher Columbus.

I think that the true journalist is the reporter, who goes and finds the people he write about and lives with them.

He has to discover them for himself, and share ther expeirences. That is the kind of journalism which I do."


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Turkey's Passionate Interpreter to the World

By Stephen KINZER

This is the Turkey of the photographer Ara Güler: A confused child peers from behind decaying tombstones inscribed with or nate Arabic script. Laborers unload hulking freighters. Couples walk down foggy streets lined with old wooden houses. Men gaze out over their drinks or contemplate rugged landscapes. Autos jam broad avenues. Horses pull carts up snowy hillsides. And Muslim worshipers bow in prayer by the hundreds.

One of the few Turks to have reached an internationally acknowledged pinnacle of creative achievement, Mr. Guler, 69, is driven by a passion for his native land and especially for Istanbul, where he has lived all his life. The rich archive he has produced has made him one of the few Turks with an international reputation.

His photographs hang in many private collections and museums, including the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and the George Eastman House in Rochester. Last month he was in Washington to open an exhibition of 43 of his Istanbul pictures at Cities, a restaurant in the Adams-Morgan section whose decor represents a different world metropolis every six months. The photographs will be on view until fall.

Because Ara Güler's photographs penetrate so far below the city's surface, they convey a deeper sense of the true Istanbul than most visitors can absorb. They are not sentimental, often starkly so, but still full of emotion. Sometimes their constrasts seem to reflect Mr. Güler's disgust with a country that he believes has thrown away much of its cultural richness. Always, however, they are infused with a poignancy that has made their creator the leading graphic interpreter of this city and this country.

"Ara Güler is a great creative artist" Turkey's most prominent living writer, Yaþar Kemal, wrote in a recent tribute: "He delves deeply into both nature and man. The picture he captures in a single moment is the result of years of research. For years perhaps he carried within him a certain face, a certain smile, a certail expression of pain or sadness. And then, when the time is ripe, he presses the button. Mr. Kemal compares Mr. Güler's talents to those of Cezanne, Turner and Gauguin. They are rich in flowing patterns, and he acknowledges having learned his technique through years of studying great painters. But in an interview at his cluttered studio in downtown Istanbul, he insisted that he is merely a "press photographer" (He works regularly for major magazines, including Time, Paris Match and Stern). "If it's art, it's art," he said with a shrug. "If it's not, it's not. Other people will decide that 100 years from now. Photography looks like art, but art has to have some kind of depth. Painting is art. Music is art. Who is an artist, Yehudi Menuhin or Vivaldi? One is only an interpreter. Photography is interpretation. I can stand for an hour in front of a picture by Ansel Adams or Eugene Smith or Cartier-Bresson. You can see that they have a visual education. But that does not make them artists. I hate the idea of becoming an artist. My job is to travel and record what I see."

"Art is something important", he continued. "But the history of humanity is more important, and that is what press photographers record. We are the eyes of the world. We see on behalf of other people. We collect the visual history of today's earth. To me, visual history is more important than art. The function of photography is to leave documentation for coming centuries."

Mr. Güler spends much of his time seeking to document what he calls "the lost Istanbul," which he believes is not appreciated or even known to today's young people.

"What they know is the junk of Istanbul," he said. "The poetic, romantic, esthetic aspect of the city is lost. I understand the smell of Istanbul. Istanbul became my subject because I was born here, grew up here and know this place intimately.But the great culture I knew is gone." It is a truism that everything everywhere was better in the old days, but Mr. Güler's lament for Istabul's is shared by almost everyone of his generation here.

"The real population of Istanbul is one million," he asserted. "Today, 13 million people live here. We have been overrun by villagers from Anatolia who don't understand the poetry or the romance of Istanbul. They don't even know the great pleasures of civilization, like how to eat well. They came, and the Greeks, Armenians and Jews, who became rich here and made this city so wonderful, left for various reasons. This is how we lost what we had for 400 years." Not everyone remaining in Istanbul is an Anatolian peasant or even an ethnic Turk, however, Mr. Güler himself is of Armenian ancestry, though he says he has always considered himself "just a Turkish person like any Ahmet or Mehmet." Mr. Güler dreamed of becoming a film director, but his father gave him a 35-milimeter camera when he was a child, and he became obsessed with it. In 1948 he got his first job, as a photographer for an Istanbul newspaper, and since then he has made his living taking pictures.

For a while his work appeared regularly in the Istanbul daily newspaper Hürriyet, and in 1961 a British magazine, Photography Annual, named him one of the world's seven greatest photographers.

Yet today his pictures are rarely published in Turkish newspapers. "A shame for the Turkish press," lamented one of his younger colleagues, Burhan Özbilici, an Associated Press photographer based in Ankara.

In recent years Mr. Guler has published three lavish books. One is a survey of the work of the great 16th-century Ottoman architect Sinan, who remains perhaps the most influential designer in the Muslim world. The other two books, both of which appeared in 1995, are "All the World in Their Faces," an vivid portrait of Anatolia, and "Vanished Colors," a ode to Istanbul and the Constantinople that lies beneath it. They will be for sale at Cities.

In his studio, amid portraits of figures ranging from Churchill and Bertrand Russell to Picasso and Tennessee Williams, Mr. Güler is hoarding 615 sides for what he hopes will be his next and most ambitious book. They make up a collection of brilliant color pictures he has taken during a lifetime of world travel, with large selections from India, Bangladesh, Myanmar the Philippines, Kenya, Senegal and other countries that he describes as "paradise for photographers." An Istanbul printer has told him, however, that it will cost at least $ 150,000 to produce the book.

"What publisher will pay that much for a book that will be so expensive to buy that, people will only look at in bookstores for half an hour and then put it back on the shelf and leave". Otherwise who knows? But the pictures will always exist. My pictures are what I leave to the world."

The New York Times

April 13,1997

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Photo of Ara Güler and Erdogan is among the bests

10:18, 14 December, 2012

YEREVAN, DECEMBER 14, ARMENPRESS. Turkish Anadolu News Agency published the list of best photographs of 2012 and suggested its readers to choose the best photo of the year.

As reports "Armenpress" among these successful photos one can see the photo taken during the solemn ceremony of presenting "Grand Culture and Arts Award" organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey, where the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip ErdoÄ?an takes a picture of the best photographer of the century, Armenian from Constantinople Ara Güler.

36 photos depicting significant events, which took place in Turkey and the world, human tragedies, developments and nature are introduced to the public. The voting for "the Best Photo of the Year" will last one week.

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