A pioneer of Turkish photography, and one of the twentieth century’s renowned photojournalists, Ara Güler became known as the “Eye of Istanbul”— famed for his many iconic images of the city. A new museum showcases Güler’s photographic and personal material collected over a 70 year career, offering new insights into the legendary figure.
Text by Yasemin Ulusoy
Photos by Ara Güler, courtesy of AGAVAM
The Ara Güler Museum opened its doors to visitors on August 16, 2018, the photographer’s 90th birthday. It was the culmination of a demanding two-year process in which a 12 person team at the AraGüler Arşiv ve Araştırma Merkezi(Ara Güler Archives and Research Center, AGAVAM) diligently cleaned, recorded, and digitized a huge mass of black and white film rolls, and catalogued notes, sketches, and personal objects owned by the photographer.
The museum’s permanent space is located at Bomontiada, the historic beer factory turned social space. Visitors will find a collection of Güler’s best known and loved work; his black and white records of a lost Istanbul, of buildings later torn down, old neighborhoods now transformed, capturing a time before the city became the vast metropolis it is today. But visitors will also have an unprecedented opportunity to go beyond Güler’s iconic photography to explore the personal journey that shaped him.
The opening exhibition (which began on August 16 and is expected to last a few months), named Islık Çalan Adam (The Whistling Man), is a reference to one of Güler’s short stories from his book Babil’den SonraYaşayacağız letters) meticulously chosen for the exhibition from the vast AGAVAM archive.
The Güler we meet is not only a correspondent travelling the globe, reporting on global events and taking portraits of artists and intellectuals for Time, Life, and Paris Match magazines, but is also a literary voyager, reading and writing extensively since childhood.
Unlike previous showcases of Güler’s work, the museum reveals the people and times that shaped the genius. Through images, letters, notes, and even a video he shot at the age of 17, one can travel through Güler’s neighborhood, Pera; take in impressions of Cağaloğluwhere he worked at Hayat magazine; and explore Eminönüand Unkapanı where he photographed boatmen, drank coffee at local coffeehouses, and visited studios of artist friends such as Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğluand Aliye Berger.
Rather than being burdened by a need to translate Ara Güler’s entire life story, the archive and museum’s team find comfort in the fact that, as a permanent institution, they have time to reveal the numerous quirks and details of the collection bit by bit. “Our work is not complete and by nature it never will be. We are discovering new information, new connections every day,” Umut Sülün, the manager of AGAVAM, told The Guide Istanbul.
A large project
The museum’s exhibitions are only one strand of a larger project. AGAVAM is also an important venture in terms of archiving both Güler’s work and his collection of images made by other important photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Irving Penn, and Sebastião Salgado. The archive’s team believe that every photograph or note displayed in the exhibition is a teaser for a wider body of work that may be brought out and presented in stand-alone exhibitions in the future.
AGAVAM is also currently putting together a centerpiecebook filled with Güler’sphotographs and writing, along with commentary by his circle of friends. Later in the year, the museum will also start hosting regular talks with authors and historians, and intends to branch out to cover other disciplines that interact with photography.
Finally, in possibly the most fascinating stage of the AGAVAM project, Ara Güler’s old home near the Galatasaray High school in Beyoğlu will be opened to the public after renovation. Every item in the historic building will be reinstalled exactly as Güler left it: artworks on the walls; cardboard boxes storing thousands of negatives; pens, papers and curiosities on Güler’s work desk are just a speck of what awaits.
Open Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm. Bomontiada, Birahane Sokak No.1, Bomonti; T: (0212) 335 95 95; www.aragulermuzesi.com