In Focus: Ara Guler's Anatolia

The history of humanity is more important, and that is what press photographers record. We are the eyes of the world. We see on behalf of other people.

-Ara Guler

Throughout his career, acclaimed and prolific photojournalist Ara Guler, Turkey’s most well-known photographer, has taken more than 800,000 photographs documenting Turkish culture and important historical sites. He photographed for major international publications, including Time Life, Paris Match, and Smithsonian magazine. In the 1960s, he worked alongside acclaimed photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson at Magnum Photos. "In Focus: Ara Guler’s Anatolia" reveals a selection of his never-before-shown works of Anatolian monuments, taking the viewer on a historical journey through the lens of one of the world’s most legendary photojournalists.

The 21 works on view challenge Guler’s definition of himself as a photojournalist, not an artist, and engage visitors in a critical debate about whether photography is an art form or a means of documentation. While Guler maintains he is strictly a photojournalist who seeks to capture “historical truth", he has always been deeply engaged with the art world. Thus, his body of work exemplifies an ongoing debate over whether to consider photographs as documents or art. 

Guler’s ability to capture fleeting moments and his fascination with storytelling are evident in several of the works on view, such as “Gok Medrese” (school), which captures a child running past a ruined facade, an open doorway allowing a glimpse of a larger world beyond. Since 1965, when these images were made, some of the historic buildings Guler depicts have been extensively renovated to become tourist sites and some have deteriorated even further—in both cases, Guler’s photographs provide a poignant and valuable record of a moment in time. 

Besides the excellent photographs, this exhibition is noteworthy for asking pointed questions and trying to engage its audience in the debates surrounding photography's status as art or documentation. Thus, the exhibition promises unseen photographs from one of the giants of the field and then uses these works to examine one of the persistent questions of the genre. 

—Alexander Strecker

See a wonderful, different collection of Ara Guler's work in this earlier article from LensCulture: Lost Istanbul: 1950s and 60s

Editor's Note: The exhibition will run from December 14, 2013 until May 4, 2014 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.