Ara Güler’s ‘time machine‘
It was 1957. Istanbul's Sultanahmet Square was filled with curious people. Meatball and sherbet sellers kept to the corners of the square. After all, they would be witnesses to an uncommon incident.
The public was tired from the wait that had lasted for days, while it made photojournalists nervous, of which there were few of at the time. Finally, one week later the moment they had been waiting for arrived.
The prisoner stood on the gallows and hung his head through the noose. The crowd did not make a sound. Ten meters away from the gallows, photojournalists waited for a movement from the executioner through their camera lens.
And suddenly, the prisoner’s feet fell. An unfortunate moment for the photographer. The corpse at the end of the rope turned on its axis. One of the photojournalists went to the gallows to take a photo of the “Sarıyer Pervert” from an angle where his noose could be seen.
This photojournalist was the world-famous Ara Güler, whose expertise was internationally celebrated. His photographs and signature were known but millions did not know his name or face.
In the streets of the neighborhood where he walked around, old people watching from the windows and children playing football would smile or wave at most when they saw the photographer they were familiar with.
While touring Istanbul in the beginning of the 2000s with Güler, I saw things had changed with my own eyes. People dangled from their cars smirking and said “532” (a commercial for a telecommunications company), a lady came to us at the cafe where we sat and showed her teeth while saying this three-digit number.
Güler was suffering with the fame that came from this television commercial.
“I took photos for years, people had become used to seeing me. I would comfortably take photos. I would go on TV and people did not know me as I would go on intellectual programs. But everything changed after this commercial. If you look at my new photos, you will see everyone grinning. In short, the most horrible thing that could have ever happened to a photojournalist happened to me. I became popular and famous. Since then, it has been difficult for me to shoot people in their natural state,” he said.
Taking photos of Güler is the best and most difficult thing that could have ever happened to myself, as a photographer.
At the slightest wrong angle, you would be scolded.
I do not understand how time would fly by when I listened to him. Well, between us, he was pretty scared of his wife. “Being henpecked is the first condition of a comfortable life,” he said, shining a light on me as his disciple.
“Your have enough photos taken in the oldest places in Istanbul, let’s take some photos of you in new places,” I said. Then we hit the road after another scolding.
I would have trouble keeping up with him while he walked. When we came to certain spots, he would advise me saying, “Ok, now you can shoot.” We were talking at the same time. Even though I knew the answer, I asked, “What is the secret to your name becoming a legend?”
“I have been in the right place at the right time,” he said, with great humility.
There are many good photojournalists on these lands, but I do not know if someone like him will ever come into this world again. For me, Ara Güler is one of the top 10 photojournalists in the world. All of us are taking photos nowadays. Every spot on Earth is being recorded from different perspectives. What makes him Ara Güler is that he could take us to the past with his time machine and could convey everything, even smells and scents, through his lense.