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Ara Güler

A day with Ara Güler

Gulgun Gunal | 14 August 2022


Ara Güler, waiting for an answer… On September 29, 2018 – a date that would become unforgettable for me – when I woke up to the ringing sound of my phone, I opened my eyes to an ordinary day. I got excited when I saw the name on the screen yet I did not have much hope. Even if my request for an interview was denied, rejection itself would be a great courtesy. On the other hand deep inside I had faith that it could be a surprising news. Ara Güler responded.

The caller said, “Gülgün, do not make any plans for today, be ready to leave the house any moment, your demand for the interview has been accepted.” The unexpected surprise was happening. Yet later on, the caller added “Gülgün, the duration of the interview can last three minutes or can be longer, it is up to his mood.” The subject matter was meeting with the grand master; spending three minutes in his house was worth 3 years of my life.

I got ready in a great rush, I scanned my notes. With the second phone call, I threw myself out on the street and jumped into a cab. Destination; Ara Güler’s house!

Ara GulerI arrived at the doorstep which will give my life a new energy, a different color and a meaning. And there he was, one of the most influential names of 20th-century photography, Ara Güler, standing right in front of me. A worldwide known artist who captures Istanbul’s soul, nostalgia, and landscapes with black and white film which have vanished due to the cruel and tyrant urban transformation! I remember the feeling of a strange heartthrob. A passionate newbie who is trying to learn photography, entering the house of a worldwide known photographer! Her encounter with the person that she admires for his photographs, drags her into her passion for photography!

Unforgettable moments

We were sitting across from each other. Yet I was tongue-tied and could not talk. I was staring at the Eye of Istanbul,Ara GÜLER watching… The great witness of the history from Ancient Anatolia’s moors to the Istanbul that we lost. I was feeling the holy privilege of sitting at the very same table with this magnificent creature to my bones, the one who transfers the soul and heart of the city by wandering around in the streets and districts of Istanbul and capturing them for decades for the next generation. In an instant, I asked for an autograph for the book on the table ‘‘Islık Çalan Adam” (The Man Who Whistles) that I brought on my way to his house. He signed it. I told him that he wrote my name wrong. He got mad. He twitchily threw the brand new precious book that he signed and asked for another one from his assistant. I was telling myself “Okay, three minutes passed and now he will send me away,” he looked me in the eye and said admonishingly, “You have to say your name correctly, the book goes to waste, see?” Later on, I asked some questions with my cracking voice. I had so much to ask… Yet everything just flew away from my mind in one second.

I actually did remember, yet I could not verbalize it… I scanned through the environment with my eyes while he was talking with his assistant; there were plenty of books all around the room. Paintings on the walls, masks, books that outgrew from the shelves and had been hoarded on the floor. To be honest, the last time I saw this many book was in a bookstore.

What is photography? How to be a good photographer?

I remember the windows which had been tightly covered with earth-color curtains… And I also remember him suddenly saying, “Let’s go outside all together!” Moreover, I remember my realization of me spending half of the day in his house. And his complaints because of the pain … Of course, I remember the answers that he gave to my questions ‘‘What is photography?’’ and ‘‘How to be a good photographer?’’

Ara GÜLERAra Güler defined his perspective of photography by saying “It is like plucking off a piece from life itself. Arranging aperture, concerning if it’s 31fps or not… Whatever… These are not photography, these are technical knowledge. Do you understand?”

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How to be a good photographer? Ara Güler said “It starts with seizing life. Learning about life, living effectively, repeating life and using it somewhere. This is photography!”

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Ara Güler got ready to go outside and we got into the elevator to go downstairs. I found myself in his car, in the tight streets of Kabataş. All of this was unreal. The tight streets had been locked due to the traffic a few moments later. During the turmoil, to be honest, I heard some slang words that I have never heard before. And hearing these words from Ara Güler, groundlessly eased my uneasiness. We arrived at Cafe Ara in Beyoğlu. While eating lunch, not talking about the skull hunters wouldn’t feel right. However, before we even started to talk about it he suddenly said “Take me to Saint Antoine Church.” We tidied up quickly and started to walk towards Istiklal Street.

A walk  with Ara Güler in Beyoğlu

Ara GÜLER Hard to claim how many times I had walked through these streets. As a matter of fact every time I passed through, I curiously examined the inside of the cafe with the thought  “Maybe, Ara Güler is inside.” The last time I did this with a friend of mine who is a French photographer, we even had lunch with the hope of seeing him there but of course we did not see him, he was not there… At that moment I and Ara Güler were walking through the crowd as we chatted on Istiklal Street. His fans stopped the master constantly to say “Hello!”. Like in his photographs, he was surrounded by people and he talked to them in a sincere and impish way. I saw that his daily life is just like his photographs, his human relations were significantly strong.

He wanted to go to a bookstore. We went there all together. He reprimanded me when I shot photos in the bookstore, he said “Why are you constantly shooting photos, what are you going to do with them?” Yet I was not able to arrange focus as the grand master was standing next to me… The last stop was Cafe Ara while the darkness had fallen.

Was this a dream?!

While I was going back home with the feeling of privilege, joyfulness and astonishment, I also was planning a second date because my fluster would be gone by that time and I would ask the questions that I could not ask at the first time.

I answered every phone call with great excitement for a few days. Then the phone rang at late hours. The phone ringing and the knocking on doors early in the morning or late at night always scares me. The voice on the other line said “We lost Ara Güler, my condolences to you Gülgün.”

On October 17, 2018, we lost the Eye of Istanbul, our legendary photographer Ara Güler.

I would never have guessed; I never planned to take pictures of his last journey. He was taken from the cafe where we had dinner together to his funeral in Galatasaray Square and then dragged along the streets we walked together with his coffin covered in Turkish flag to Beyoğlu Üç Horan Church. Last stop was Şişli Armenian Cemetery.

You honored me by accepting me to your house, I express my gratitude to you! Rest in peace grand master; Ara Güler!



The funeral ceremony of master Turkish-Armenian photographer Ara Güler was held on 20 October 2018 at Galatasaray Square in Istanbul.



His coffin was later taken to he Beyoğlu Three Horan Armenian Church in Beyoğlu district.



Last farewell to Ara GÜLER: The farewell ceremony was held at Beyoğlu Three Horan Church.


Ara GÜLER, the Şişli Armenian Cemetery

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