Ara Güler and Ara Café


Sure everybody agrees, one of the major venues of our İstanbul is İstiklal Caddesi. People walk up and down between Tünel and Taksim square and honestly, never get enough of it. This was what I used to do when I was a school girl in Italian High School down in Tophane or even earlier when I studied at –again- Italian Girl’s School, near the famous Galatasaray Hammam. Now I am over my forties and I still walk up and down İstiklal Caddesi, at least three times a week.

Things change…Who says don’t? Sometimes for good but sometimes not… New places and faces come to the showcase. Sometimes we like them and they remain here for a long time, but sometimes we simply don’t feel comfortable with them, and they silently swift away… We don’t even remember them…

But in all these forte changes of Istiklal Caddesi, there is a place, which I am sure, everybody would be sorry if it went lost: Ara Café!

Well, honestly this is NOT a praise for some café but it certainly is a tip for those who are interested in knowing local personalities, like our legendary photographer Mr. Ara Güler. So here comes the question: What does AraCafé has to do with a photographer? Answer won’t come late: Pay attention to the name of the café! Well, now you know!

Mr. Ara Güler has a nickname: Eye of Istanbul. And sure he is!

He was born in Beyoğlu in 1928 and his father owned a pharmacy right on Istiklal Caddesi. When he was still a little kid, he met the intellectuals of the city thanks to the connections of his father. Growing up, he became interested in cinema and he worked part time in movie studios. He took drama courses organized by Mr. Muhsin Ertuğrul, founder of the modern Turkish theatre. But then, he finally found the love of his life: Photojournalism. While a student of economics at Istanbul University, in 1950, he started working  as a photojournalist in Yeni Istanbul.

1958 brought a big change in his life when the famous Life-Time magazine company opened a branch in Turkey.

Ara Güler became their Middle East correspondent. And after that came Der Stern and Paris-Match… From that day on, he travelled whole world and took photographs of places and faces. He photographed politicians and artists like Winston Churchill, Indira Gandhi, Maria Callas, Alfred Hitchcock, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso. But his biggest contribution to the world is his collection of black and white photographs of Istanbul in 1950s and 1960s. That’s an amazing collection! Those pictures give you the magical atmosphere of our beloved city, before the big rush of the late 60s.

How things were, how people lived, how the narrow streets above the Bosphorus were…

Porters of the bazaars, boatmen of the Golden Horn, clouds over the domes of Süleymaniye and snow in İstiklal Caddesi… When I look at them, tears fill my eyes with a sense of melancholy. They are so strong!

And Ara Café, located under his workshop, is the place where you can see his photos and if you are lucky enough Mr. Ara Güler himself as well… The photos are on the walls and he, probably sipping his coffee and reading the papers in a corner table.