If, like me, you are into classic street photography, the exhibition “Istanbul´s Eye” (das Auge Istanbuls) at the Leica Store near the Vienna opera is for you. Until 24 August you can visit their upstairs gallery and look at a selection of photographs by the famous Armenian-Turkish photographer Ara Güler. Admittedly I had not heard of him until I learned about this exhibition from a friend, but that´s no big surprise, as my passion for street photography is recent and I am only slowly getting to know more of the work of outstanding photographers who pioneered this type of photography.
Born in 1928 as the son of a pharmacists, Ara Güler was exposed to the world of art early through his father´s circle of friends. Although initially he was interested in a career in film, he changed course and opted for journalism and photography. In 1950 he became a photojournalist at Yeni Istanbul, a Turkish newspaper. His career took off when he began working for Time-Life Magazine from 1958 onward. Commissions from many other famous magazines followed, including Stern, Paris Match, and Sunday Times, London. In 1961 he became the chief photographer for Hayat magazine. Ara Güler began moving in the circles of famous photographers (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marc Riboud) and became the first Turkish member of the American Society of Magazine Photographers. He was also elected to join the famous Magnum co-operative of photographers.
The streets of Istanbul in black and white
Ara Güler portrayed his hometown of Istanbul for more than 60 years. He did not, apparently, think of himself as an artist, preferring to think of himself as a journalist. His black and white photographs of the metropolis on the Bosporus from the 1950s and 1960s are famous and impressed me so much that I ended up buying an entire photo book. What is on view at the Leica Gallery is only a small proportion of this huge oeuvre. They are mostly scenes from times gone by, both scenes of the street life in wealthy districts and of the hard work and destitution in poor districts of Istanbul of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. There is a strong element of social criticism in some of these images. There are children carrying heavy loads, candid portraits of men drinking away their meager earnings in taverns, but also men sitting in the street over a cup of tea, fishing boats in the Bosporus.
When Ara Güler presents us with a view of the city, it is always the people that touch us emotionally. In front of the imposing city view they sometimes seem especially vulnerable. (Orhan Pamuk, translated from German as quoted in Ara Güler, Istanbul, Dumont, 2nd ed. 2012)
Ara Güler also took outstanding portraits of some very famous people, just have a look.
In 2009 Güler received a Lucie Award for Lifetime Achievement in New York. He died of a heart attack in October 2018.
What is on view are scenes from times gone by, and for me that adds to the atmospheric charm of these photos. When I visit Istanbul in September (yeah!), I know I will not find it the way Ara Güler saw it. Still, his images have really whetted my appetite even more.
Visiting the exhibition is free, and of course the pictures are also for sale. (I am not being paid to advertise this.)