İpek Türeli on the photographer Ara Güler

As Istanbul modernises and becomes more connected to the world, a sense of loss pervades public discussions on the city. As the city surfaces in global networks, it seems to drown in nostalgia. Nostalgia denotes a collective feeling, ‘a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed’; as such, it is a modern phenomenon. That it is commodified ‘does not make nostalgia any less real’. One form of nostalgia entails a longing for the former cosmopolitan character of the city. When this occurs, visual and literary depictions of the city become important sites through which to imagine and consume bygone times. Bookstores in Istanbul today stock their shelves with books on Istanbul. Amongst a wide range of publications on ‘Old Istanbul’, those with reproductions of Ara Guumller’s photographs are especially popular. Most of Guumller’s well-known photographs were produced at the beginning of his career, when he roamed the streets of the city working as a photojournalist. Guumller’s melancholic black and white pictures of Istanbul in the 1950s and 1960s have experienced a renaissance, and since the early 1990s his name has become synonymous with urban nostalgia. However, the original context of Guumller’s work could not be more different from its reception today. In the 1950s, with the addition of photographers to their staff, major newspapers and illustrated magazines in Istanbul started carrying serial articles accompanied by photographs and dedicated photograph ‘corners’ to portray rapid urban change, with particular emphasis on poor rural-to-urban migrants. What is it in these images of the urban poor and working classes that lend them to cosmopolitan urban nostalgia in the past decade? How do contemporary discourses affect how we understand them today? Read more

 

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Associate Professor of German Studies, Director of Graduate Studies Co-Editor of Critical Multilingualism Studies | cms.arizona.edu Co-Investigator, Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law, and the State (2014–2017)
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