The people on the street recognize you right away. If you have negative thoughts in your mind, people get this right away. If you really want to do something good, they understand and feel this too. They can sense what your intentions are—that you have not come not to steal anything, or do anything bad—and then they try to help you. People help you when you have showed up just because you are curious about the lives others lead. The entire essential deal with photography is that you have to be honest. If you don’t really like people, or look down from above on them, they will react similarly to you. If you go somewhere where you don’t actually like the local people, there is no way you can do good work there. Communications with the people whose photos you are taking is vital. And you do not absolutely have to have words or phrases at the ready to strike up communications. What is really important actually is emotional communication. Actually, the thing that gives me the most pleasure when it comes to taking photos is that feeling of having “been accepted.” I mean, I go to a completely foreign place, and I start dialogues with the people there. When these people who I never knew before accept me, and take me into their lives, it is an incredible feeling.

I photograph everything I see, because as photographers, we want to document everything. We are historians. We record the era we live in visually. And I record my own era to convey it to future generations.

There are lots of things that I could not do. I wish I could have photographed Jean-Paul Sartre or Charlie Chaplin. I didn’t have that opportunity.

Ara Güler, on never-ending debate about whether or not he is an artist. As for Güler, he insistently rejects that he’s an artist and says he is a photojournalist.

Published in Today’s Zaman newspaper on January 2012.

Photography is interpretation. I can stand for an hour in front of a picture by Ansel Adams or Eugene Smith or Cartier-Bresson. You can see that they have a visual education. But that does not make them artists. I hate the idea of becoming an artist. My job is to travel and record what I see.

Art is something important. But 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. We collect the visual history of today’s earth. To me, visual history is more important than art. The function of photography is to leave documentation for coming centuries.

Ara Güler, from New York Times, interviewed by Stephen Kinzer, 1997.