Renan Ozturk: What I’ve Learned
Renan Ozturk: Filmmaker, Photographer, Artist, Rock Climber, Mountaineer
Dirtbagging taught me to follow something that was a little untraditional, and to appreciate the people and the wild places on a pretty deep level. It was more than climbing; it was wilderness and community. When you experience the simplicity of dirtbagging, you realize you can always go back to it. I could give it all away right now and go back and do landscape paintings in the dirt. I think dirtbags would be the ones who would do really well if shit hit the fan and everything was falling apart.
Art was an unexpected way to channel my energies when I wasn’t climbing. In the long run it led me to video and other forms of art. Society pressures you to go into a career or something “productive.” Art filled that gap of needing to produce in the modern world.
Alpine was always what inspired me to climb. I saw Todd Skinner climbing Trango Tower on the cover of National Geographic, and stuff like that was always in the back of my mind, driving me. I didn’t expect that mountaineering would bring me into other cultural worlds and open up stories that became just as important as climbing.
When you’re free soloing, you can trust yourself—you’re not scared as long as you’re not above your limit. It’s spooky to make the decision to do something, but as soon as you leave the ground, all the fear goes away. You’re just doing what you’re doing.
“Meru” [The general-audience film about climbing] taught me that bringing such a story to life in a way that it could reach non-climbing audiences was a very long process that proved to be harder and more emotional than the climb itself.
On the Myanmar [Burma] expedition [attempting the peak Hkakabo Razi] I learned how hard it is to do an expedition in remote areas that don’t have the expedition support we are used to in Alaska, Nepal, Pakistan, India or any of the more traveled areas. There was no infrastructure, which was a big part of the adventure of getting to the base of the peak. I’ll never take those logistics for granted again!
Making “Sherpa“ was one of the most powerful and deep looks at the human condition that I’ve ever had. You saw people at their best and worst at the same time. I learned a lot about the power of loss and how it affects people.
Human beings are designed to find the greener grass. To think, “What am I going to do next? Where am I going to move next? I want to find the next better thing.”
Phurba Tashi Sherpa [subject of “Sherpa”] taught us to be content with what you have and appreciate the beauty of what you have, and not be reaching all the time.
“Sherpa” taught me it’s the nature of telling important stories that you have to fight through uncomfortable moments and try to the brink of your physical and emotional capacity. I was drawn to risk it all for Sherpa because it sought to redefine what climbing is as work for the Sherpas, as well as the Sherpa as an ethnicity of people, not just a word that means porter.
In the world of documentaries and journalism, your work is never done. There’s always an unexpected moment on the horizon, and you have to try and be prepared for that.
Life is a journey that happens really quickly. It’s worth following the things that satisfy you and going your own way. I’ve met people that I’ve inspired, and they’re killing it. I also get a little leery telling people to go for it 100 percent and do what I did because there’s a lot of luck and uncertainty.
I don’t think being an influential voice suits my personality at all. I’d rather be in a hole doing my own things. At the same time it’s kind of what I’ve been working for all along, moving from art to film, because I saw that it would have more impact on more people.
This interview with Renan Ozturk appeared in Rock and Ice issue 238 (November 2016).