ARA GÜLER – A Play of Light and Shadow

We reviewed the exhibition at FOAM in Amsterdam recently and to accompany it is a splendid book of the same name.

Known as The Eye of Istanbul, Ara Güler is best remembered for, and the aspect on which the exhibition concentrates, his street photography, his photo journalism in Turkey, especially Istanbul. There was much more to him than that as the book reveals.

Güler travelled the world taking photos, both as a straightforward photo journalist and as a war reporter, visiting conflict zones in Eritrea, Sudan, Afgahnistan and Palestine. He also was a society portrait photographer, taking pictures of Brigitte Bardot, Salvador Dali, Sophia Loren and Alfred Hitchcock, to name but a few. And, surprisingly, he also had time to create art photos, producing colour collages and pictures of moving light. All these wonderful pictures are in this excellent two hundred and eight page book.

But it is for the grainy black and white candid photos of everyday life in Turkey in the 1950s and 60s that he is best known. Concentrating on the grimy under belly of life on the streets, the first pictures date from when he was in his mid-twenties. The later ones, the art photography, were produced well into the 1980s and beyond. He left a legacy of hundreds of thousands of negatives, all of which have been carefully archived and preserved

When, in 1958, Time-Life opened its Turkish bureau, Ara Güler became its first correspondent. Commissions from other international publications such as SternParis Match and Sunday Times soon followed, as did his recruitment by the legendary Magnum Photos agency in the early sixties. While not achieving the household name status of, say, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Bill Brandt, Güler stands alongside them as a chronicler of times gone by that only photography can achieve. The world that Cartier-Bresson and Brandt photographed was much more recognisable, more romantic with images recalling places like Paris in its hey-day or post-war England with which we are all familiar. Güler’s work eschewed the misplaced romanticism of the working classes and pulled no punches. Don’t forget that until it emerged from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War and the Republic was established in 1980, Turkey was, effectively, a third world country much more attune with north Africa and the Middle East than the Western Europe that it now embraces and aspires to join. Culturally and geographically neither East nor West, the differences were difficult to reconcile from either direction. This book, along with the exhibition, opens our eyes to a country that was largely ignored and consequently unknown until relatively recently.

A beautifully curated and produced book that is a must-have for anyone interested in photo journalism or, in fact, any type of photography. With notes, commentary and conversations  from art historian Kim Knoppers; curator and head of photography department at Istanbul Modern, Demet Yildiz Dinçer; photographer and filmmaker Ahmet Polat and Claartje van Dijk, curator and head of exhibitions at Foam, we learn everything we need to know about this amazing and truly important photographer. Expensive, but worth every penny – or should that be cent?   Michael Hasted  8th July 2023

The exhibition ARA GÜLER A Play of Light and Shadow continues at FOAM Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam until 8th November 2023. Anya Herrmann’s review of it can be seen here

A PLAY OF LIGHT AND SHADOW by Ara Güler at FOAM in Amsterdam

Published by Hannibal, Belgium

ISBN 9789464666298

Language English


First published December 2022

208pp   215 x 140 x 27 mm.