“Me and my Photographs are a bit romantic. I do not take photographs in a normal light. Either at sunrise, or sundown, or early in the morning. Besides I want to explain something in every frame. Every image has to have a message.” — Ara Guler
If New York is associated once and for all time with the photographs of William Klein, Paris with Atget, Kertész, Brassai, Doisneau, and Ronis, no one will be able to think of Istanbul in future without recalling Ara Güler. He is known as the city's keenest eye, not as a chronicler or archivist but as a man who walked its streets and observed all its goings on. Güler's Istanbul is the city of dockworkers and porters, water and tea vendors, fishermen and artisans; his style a social realism that sees working people not as a class but as inhabitants of a city, and in consequence does without Marx and Engels.
One of his favorite haunts was Galata Bridge and the nearby neighborhoods, and he recorded life in Eminönö before it was razed in 1959. Just as Atget avoided the grand boulevards of Paris, Güler provided a picture of "old Istanbul” horse-drawn carts and slow barges, when hammer blows still echoed from the docks and the traffic-tailored, highrise modern city and nationalism were still a thing of the future. His images spirit us nostalgically back to a time when you could walk past "garden gates covered with the purple flowers of the Judas tree." It is the Istanbul of fish restaurants, old Ottoman wooden houses, flaking facades—and poverty. Güler attempted to capture a "vanishing world," as he himself once admitted.
It may have been Brassai's views of Paris by night that inspired Güler to wander the nocturnal city, collecting atmospherically charged images in the music bars and nightclubs of the popular Beyoglu quarter. His pictures of ferries crossing the Bosphorus at daybreak, seeming to echo with the cries of seagulls, evoke the expanse of this metropolis spanning two continents. From 1950 to 1990—before the economic boom in Turkey set in—Güler followed the development of his home city in photographs, collecting the masterpieces from these four decades in the volume A Photographical Sketch on Lost Istanbul.
Excerpt taken from 50 Photographers You Should Know by Peter Stepan