|Traditional restaurant (Andre Vltchek/ People's Daily Online)|
It is late afternoon in historic Taksim neighborhood of Istanbul and Kafe Ara is full of local intellectuals. The walls are decorated with enormous black and white photographs depicting old days of the city: ancient fishing boats, exhausted laborers arriving to the jetty, historic trams crawling through Galata Bridge. All these photos were taken by one of the greatest Turkish photographers of Armenian origin – Mr. Ara Guler who is now 84 years old.
As I write this article, Mr. Guler is sitting at the large wooden table right next to me. He is still loved and popular, never short of company of both young and old people who ask him to autograph his books and to share his thoughts on this city.
Once in a while we look at each other and smile. At one point he begins eyeing my Leica camera, then he winks at me: “I have 50 of them at home. I even knew personally the family… You know… After they went digital, it is not the same…” I still love Leicas, but I politely agree with the old master.
While his work is considered phenomenal, as one of the great symbols of Istanbul, for many inhabitants and visitors alike it is synonymous with nostalgia and melancholy. Taksim neighborhood is constantly changing. While still full of history and architectural beauty, it became one of the most expensive places on earth, and according to the great Turkish Marxist filmmaker Serkan Koc – one of the ‘most capitalist’.
“Istanbul from my childhood has changed, it already disappeared”, laments Ara Guler. “The new construction is everywhere. Even when you think about Istanbul some 50 years ago, it was already gone. We have been living in the city called Istanbul, but it is just imaginary city. The real city went mad; its culture is finished. New generations – they are all empty. I see emptiness all around me.”
But standing near us, young student and translator, Erkin Oncan, is smiling warmly as he is listening to the words of the master. And his smile confirms what is so obvious even as the barrage of bitter words flies from the mouth of that great old photographer: Ara Guler actually loves his eternal city – Istanbul. He is quarreling with it, nagging it, criticizing it as old lovers would. But his affection is clearly evident in both his words and his remarkable images.
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