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Taking Flight

Over the Moon, Bernardo, New Mexico, snow geese and waning moon

BY CYNDY TANNER | PHOTOS BY NEDRET GÜRLER

As a child, Nedret Gürler witnessed countless airplanes taking off and disappearing into clouds. She longed to fly jet planes like her father, a Turkish fighter pilot instructor and Air Force Base Commander who taught her about clouds, stars, the poetry of Rumi, and how to fix broken things. As an adult, she is still mesmerized by wings and flight. “I have always correlated flying with freedom,” she says. “Watching a raven or turkey vulture soar in the thermals gives me such joy, it’s as if I am resting on their wings going up into the heavens where nothing else matters but the wind.”

Gürler immigrated with her family to New York in her early twenties, and she began documenting this new world with her Nikon camera. When she was hired by a wholesale rug dealer in Manhattan, she put her photography skills to work documenting the products while learning the business. In her first ten years in the industry, she forged connections with producers and sellers around the world, studied rug conservation, and eventually accepted a position with a retail rug dealer in Santa Fe. Then, in 2007, she started her own retail rug business, managing it successfully for a decade until she was sidelined with serious health issues.

After closing down her company to take care of her health, Gürler picked up her camera—almost as an intuitive form of healing—and began documenting the natural world. Although she had never been formally trained as a photographer, her experience as a rug conservator and dealer had honed her eye for detail, color, and composition. To develop her skills, she studied the images of her idols, nature and wildlife photographers Jimmy Chin and Tin Man Lee, absorbing all she could. Then she signed up for every online master class they taught.

She began by photographing snowflakes, sandhill cranes, ravens, hawks, turkey vultures, and the moon rising and setting. She was also charmed by the hummingbirds in her backyard, and her close observations of their comings and goings helped her to understand the beauty of tiny things. “I’ve learned so many life lessons from hummingbirds,” she says. “I’m amazed by how fierce they are, how fast their wings and hearts beat, and how hard they work to just stay alive, flying thousands of miles to migrate between winter and summer habitats, then returning to the same feeders and backyards after completing such a harrowing journey.”

Another inspiration is the unpredictability of nature—a sandhill crane taking off in first morning light, a wing fluttering in front of her lens, a hawk hovering in midair—and she hopes her images carry the emotion of those instances. “You have to be ready,” she says, “but that moment when the shutter clicks is medicine for me, and I would like it to serve as medicine for others, as well.”

Despite struggles with her health, Gürler retains her optimism, stating unequivocally that her camera saved her life. Because of this, she chooses to use her lens to express how grateful she is for the life she has been given. “Beauty is healing,” Gürler states, “and we need beauty now more than ever.”