Above and Beyond
Renan Ozturk’s Instagram Comeback Trail
Ozturk came back from a debilitating injury to conquer an impossible mountain.
In order to get over the edge, climber, photographer and painter Renan Ozturk once had to relearn not only to climb, but to walk again. He did just that—and in record time—in order to undertake a second attempt at climbing the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru.
It’s a peak that has seen more failed summit attempts than any other Himalayan mountain, and one that left him temporarily paralyzed just months prior to his successful trudge to the top.
Did he succeed? You’ll have to wait for the film, Meru, to release, which it does in August. But all the CGI superhero flicks in the world can’t compare to what Renan and two fellow climbers, Jimmy Chin and Conrad Anker, see and endure.
Renan will be taking over The Daily Beast’s Instagram account for the next few days. We caught up with him just after he returned from a whirlwind filmmaking and climbing adventure with none other than Jared Leto. Read on to see what that was all about, too.
So how did you get started with Instagram?
Honestly I don’t remember! I think it just seeped into my life when it started to become widely popular. I’m a visual person so I was really excited about how it allowed me to share stories more with images than with words.
Has it changed the way you look at photography, and if so how?
I came from a climbing, landscape painting and video background, and initially didn’t feel like I had a critical eye for photography. If anything, Instagram has brought me into the world of photography and motivated me to shoot stills on expeditions and back home in my daily life. I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of people—we see the potential for new perspectives and images in the world around us in a way we hadn’t before this platform made sharing so accessible.
What do you think the impact of Instagram, and photo sharing on social media in general, has had on culture as a whole?
What culture do you mean? I’ve been to a lot of places in the world that it has zero impact since it simply does not exist… But yeah, for most of the globe that has access to it, I think it has a pretty significant impact on the way people look at and interact with the world. A lot of friends that didn’t have much of an interest in photography or being outdoors have been killing it on Instagram.
If you look at the Internet as a giant confusing mess of 1’s and 0’s, I think the more positivity you put into it, the more it will incrementally effect positive change and awareness. For climate change, for natural disasters like the Nepal earthquake, for protecting wild places, or just the simple task of getting outside. Sure, it’s hard to measure the impact of a single photo, but the ripple effect is there.
You’ve had some amazing adventures, and some really close calls, physically. How do you keep going? What drives you to do what you do?
That’s kind of a big question that I would love to be able to have a simple and inspiring response to but I’m not sure if I have one. One of my mentors, Conrad Anker, likes to say “I’m hard-wired for climbing in life. There is no Plan B.” I’m kind of like that as well. After college I went “all-in” to pursue my dreams of spending my life climbing and doing art in inspiring landscapes across the American West, hitch-hiking with the climbing tribe across National Parks like Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Canyonlands. Spending time in these places and exploring new ones—particularly new cultures around the planet—is what keeps me going.
With the sudden proliferation of “adventure photographers,” what do you think sets the bar? It seems like there is a—for lack of better word—lot of hipster types taking off into the woods with cameras and an Instagram account harboring dreams of greatness and money. Does that impact your business, as someone who has been at it for a long time, or do you feel it just raises the bar as far as who will “make it”?
Wait, are people making a living off of Instagram now? Damn, I’m not sure where I fell off that money train! I haven’t made a single dollar off of Instagram—although some jobs and opportunities come through as people find my profile.
But I know what you mean, every other shot I see now is a women in a Native American patterned blanket gazing over the sunset at the same overlooks and landscapes. There’s something wrong with this, but I don’t have the time for a rant here. I do think it’s rad that people are getting out there and making these images, but in the long run the ones that will set themselves apart will go the extra mile to find unique locations and fresh perspectives. Also, I’ve always thought that if you are willing to suffer more, put yourself into more trying situations, stay up all night, then get up again for the sunrise even if it’s painful, that it will make all the difference.
What have you been working on lately?
Most recently my girlfriend Taylor Rees and I just came off a wild adventure production directed by Jared Leto called The GreatWideOpen Project. We visited Yellowstone, the Tetons, Yosemite, Toulumne, and Devil’s Tower to promote the parks and to explore what people experience in these places. Plus we hooked up with a lot of our climbing friends like Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, and Sasha DiGiulian to share the love of climbing with Jared, who is super excited for it right now.
Also I’ve got a personal project with Camp 4 Collective and Brainfarm called Sanctity of Space which I’ve been working on with co-director Freddie Wilkinson. It sheds light on the legacy of Brad Washburn, the photographer who first mapped Denali and Everest by hanging out of open door of airplanes with medium format cameras. We shot some of the only Cineflex aerials around Denali National Park and captured our own modern day climbing adventure story that will all be part of the show. Stay tuned.
Any advice for people who want to take better Instagram pics?
Shoot in good light. It’s a game changer. Composition is where the creativity comes into play. But I think the best thing is to find personal stories to tell with your images, things that define who you are with who you want to share with. I think Instagram is for visual storytelling and Facebook can be for all the other mundane stuff.
Who are some of your favorite accounts?
@forestwoodward. This guy is soaring through life right now.
@coryrichards. Wild man, and a good friend. He’s true grit when it comes to photography.
@usinterior. I’ve been blown away by their collection lately.
@jercollins_com. The most soulful and dedicated artist that I feel lucky to call my friend.
@stationcdrkelly. The perspectives and images coming from the ISS are changing the game.