Ara Guler is a Turkish Armenian photojournalist, nicknamed “the Eye of Istanbul” or “the Photographer of Istanbul”. He was born in born on August 16, 1928 in Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey. He studied at the local Getronagan Armenian High School. Owner of a pharmacy on Istiklal Avenue, his father had a wide circle of friends from the art world of the period.
Ara Güler’s early contact with this world inspired him to embark on a career in cinema. During his high school years, he jobbed in movie studios and attended drama courses held by Muhsin Ertuğrul, the founder of modern Turkish theatre. However, he abandoned cinema in favour of journalism.
He began his journalistic career in 1950 on the Yeni Istanbul newspaper while still a student at the Faculty of Economics. On completing his military service he began work on the Hayat magazine, where he was employed until 1961 as head of the photographic department. When Time-Life opened an office in Turkey, Ara Guler was engaged as correspondent for the Near East. This was followed by his employment as Near East photographic reporter for Paris-Match and Der Stern. Soon he received commissions from Paris Match, Stern, and The Sunday Times in London. It was during this period that he made the acquaintance of Henri Cartier-Bresson and joined the Paris Magnum Agency which he later withdrew.
In 1961 he was selected by the English publication Photography Annual as one of the seven best photographers in the world, and in the same year he was accepted as the sole Turkish member of ASMP (American Society of Magazine Photographers). The Swiss magazine Camera honored him with a special issue.
In the 1960s, Güler’s photographs were used to illustrate books by notable authors and were displayed at various exhibitions throughout the world. His works were exhibited in 1968 in 10 Masters of Color Photography at the New York Museum of Modern Art and at Photokina Fair in Cologne, Germany. His book Türkei was published in Germany in 1970. His photos on art and art history were used in Time, Life, Horizon and Newsweek and publications of Skira of Switzerland.
In the 1970s he photographed politicians and artists such as Indira Gandhi, Maria Callas, John Berger, Bertrand Russell, Willy Brandt, Alfred Hitchcock, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalíand Pablo Picasso.
In 1962 he was awarded the title Master of Leica, an honour accorded to very few photographers. In 1975 he was invited to the United States, where he took photographs of a number of famous Americans, and an exhibition entitled Creative Americans composed of photographs taken during this trip was opened in several large cities throughout the world.
Güler traveled on assignment to Iran, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kenya, New Guinea, Borneo, as well as all parts of Turkey.
Güler worked in film, directing the documentary The End of the Hero (1975). It was based on a fictional account of the dismantling of the World War I veteran battlecruiser TCG Yavuz.
Güler’s archive contains some 800,000 photographic slides.
Güler attached the greatest importance to human presence in his photographs and described himself as a “visual historian”. He believed that photography should provide a memory of people, of their lives and especially their suffering. While he considers that art lies, he believes that photography can only reflect reality. He embraced the identity of a photojournalist because he did not attach much value to photography as an artistic pursuit, which to him would have little value. He did not consider photography to be an art.