He pursued his goals for years and succeeded. Worked for success and here he is today. He has numerous memories ranging from interviews held with the hijackers to persons he saved while he was a war photojournalist, torchers he suffered, and from the times he spent with cannibals...
A great friend, an incredible companion... In comradely journeys, the information given by Aral is so distilled and exciting... Writing and describing him just won’t suffice... Coşkun Aral and his savory stories tempt a person to become him...
If we make a classic beginning dear Coşkun, when did you become a planetary treasurer?
My story as a traveler goes back to my childhood. I first came from Siirt to Istanbul at age 5. I was a visiting first grader here. Later we returned to Siirt. I was back in Istanbul at 11. We had relatives at many locations of Turkiye and we travelled frequently. Seeing differences prompted the traveler passion in me.
How about photography?
My discovery of photographs coincides with ages 9 - 10 period. I was 17 when I got my first professional camera. Started my career at the Gün newspaper and in pursuant years the Politika newspaper during which I was also a freelancer for the Associated Press(AP) Agency. There used to be UPI at that time... Later became the Reuters. I worked with the late Duygu Asena in Kadınca magazine. Becoming a photojournalist during the same period, I had my first venture abroad. Then I began travelling the globe on behalf of Sipa. The world did not have only wars, also there were festivals, disasters, original lives and portraits... I worked in all of these areas. From 1979 to 1996, I was an active field photojournalist. I used video camera from time to time but never abandoned classic photojournalism. In 1996 I became a documentarist at a television with news-documentary style program called Haberci. At present in İz TV on Digiturk and holding the position of General Broadcast Coordinator, I continue my work as a director but not as an executive.
You had an interview with the hijackers of the airplane on October 14, 1980. I know you do not wish to dwell on this but are you still of the same opinion?
As you imply that is a very private personal moment for me and I do not wish to spread it too much because I am planning a film of it in the near future. An airplane I was on, as a young journalist was hijacked and I was taken into custody with the accusation of assisting the pirates.
If we would touch on ‘Haberci’ a little, how did its format and journey began?
While I was doing my job. I was being followed by a camera. As usual I was taking photographs and doing reporting. Our lives as photojournalists is very different and had remained undiscovered for many years. A film of several photojournalists’ life stories resonated in the world. Then we were always questioned. What we do, how we go wherever we go and what we are confronted with... I was the first in the world to answer these questions via a camera following me. However, the idea started at the ‘A Takımı (A Team)’ program in 1994. The format we started in A Takımı became the Haberci in 1995 (Haberci: The Herald, Reporter, News carrier).
Why The Herald?
Because we are not a society traveling the world. We also are not a society who travels in its own country. Short of the long story, the intention was to introduce to our society the other geographies abroad, colors, tastes, sounds and life styles. I also made a global version of it. We also had an American show called the “World’s Most Dangerous Places”. We started another similar project but couldn’t continue.
During the 1996–1997 period. This project came out as a book in America.
World’s Most Dangerous Places! What was the reason for discontinuation?
Unfortunately the disadvantages of being a foreigner stopped the program. I can’t qualify Haberci as advanced or of lesser quality. Because I also made a documentary of United States of America. We penetrated the narcotics section of Brooklyn near New York. That documentary had a perspective for doing what can’t be done, going into the fear and revealing the mystery beneath. Our Mandala Pirate logo is predicated on a person entering places known as dangerous, a warrior in a journalist team, and a hunter gatherer of images. We worked with that mission in mind. Program continued but eventually it lost its initial ATV popularity and excitement. At the moment we broadcast it at our own İz TV but the flavor is not its old taste.
Why do you think so? Each documentary broadcast at İz TV is rich in content and it is a must for true documentary fans. At least for those who do not lie claiming “I’m watching documentary”...
Thanks. But the society has changed, our values have changed and the interest for such things are altered. For this reason, rather than Haberci, my intent and objective is to increase the documentary programs and widen their content.
Sometimes in the midst of a war, sometimes in crowds no one dare enter, in most difficult situations... Either you or your colleagues are doing your job... What do you feel when you meet someone in need of help?
Those of us doing this job, the photojournalists, we are not Rambo. We are all ordinary human beings. Not only I, but each and every one of my colleagues do it on the field. If I were to see a child hurt during a social upheaval or war zone I’ll leave photography aside and help the child. Anything less will be wrong.
I don’t know if calling it “inured” is right but there are some who do only their jobs without getting involved... What kind of principle do you follow?
Yes, on occasion there are. This is their personal deficiency. ‘Heroism’ is not why I go to the war zones. But, whoever needs help near me will also be helped by everyone. In this respect I am not a hero. I just do my humanitarian duty. But there have been those who failed to do so. A photographer colleague has committed suicide for failing to do so. Apparently he continued his work while a child was being attacked by a vulture in Africa. How can I explain this... Sometimes those who are much immersed in the job are occasionally blinded to many other things by the intense concentration. Because of this I can’t judge anyone. Let me put it this way: neither what I do is heroism, nor those who fail to help others are monsters.
On the topic of documentaries, is it difficult to find sponsors for documentaries?
Turkiye is an advancing country. The concept of sponsorship is being newly formed in Turkiye. Let’s leave aside the documentaries for a moment, there are serious incredibly beautiful film themes which could successfully present Turkiye to the world. But, unfortunately the Ministry of Culture does not have people who possess this kind of understanding and vision. There never was. Even if the Minister wanted, the statutes will not allow much... You might ask... ‘If a film like Recep İvedik gathers an audience of 5 million why should anyone support any other types of films?’ Regretfully, the concept of social responsibility is not very sound. Consequently, instead of bickering and talking over these, we carry on with our jobs... we are trying to raise our quality. Those who wish to be sponsors will decide what they will sponsor and find the persons whom they will sponsor whether it is a documentary, a film, a Recep Ivedik or a serious work of art. I think there is no sense in going around begging and no sense in judging those who sponsor what they wish.
You have a documentary titled “Amongst Cannibals”. I heard it in your past chats but can you describe again what you saw and experienced?
During the 1960-1970s certain places were being pointed at as locations of human cannibalism. Cannibalism is actually very different in the world. There are those who butcher and eat their lovers, or those who eat just for pleasure... Few years back, a Russian was in criminal courts for eating more than 40 women. He was executed. We know that some starving people during the WW II had eaten corpses. Sportsmen passengers of a flight which crashed in the Andes Mountains had eaten corpses of their friends for survival. But some communities did protect their traditional human cannibalism until 1980s. We kept hearing from the missionaries that an island near Papua New Guinea had such cases. I went there to make a documentary and some ex-cannibals explained to me that the island did not have any meat protein because there were no suitable animals. They explained that there were nothing more than insects living in the soil and mud. Strangely, humans become accustomed to animal protein while they are breast fed. Lack of this protein could divert the body to strange practices. During the fasting month of Ramadan, for instance, people struggle with 8 hours of hunger and thirst. Of course, this in no way compares with what I am describing. If you were to stay away from cheese, milk, meat protein for 1 month you will see a change. These people eat not their own dead but those who they killed in a combat. I did go to an island where the last vestiges of this had existed. I made a documentary. Of course, there still are cannibals and those who do it for perverted pleasure. This is generally recognized as a disease of sadism or psychiatric perversion. But, we documented the subject of cannibalism arising purely out of survival necessity.
As a society, how is our interest in documentaries?
If our society had real interest and preference in documentaries many other channels would have been opened before our Iz TV. Unfortunately our society is not very fond of books. It is a public which has abandoned childish interests and likes pursuing only its needs. Whether it is suppressed sexuality, quick way to wealth, or joining a communal collective for gaining force. Their personal areas of interest are shaped accordingly. In other words, if football is satisfying, If the private life of celebrities are interesting, then that is what they will watch. Most individuals won’t choose documentary over other spectacles and say ‘today is my documentary day’. However, our audience seems to be adequate to support continuation of our Iz TV channel. Today any channel not attracting audience is removed immediately from broadcast. In other words, if our Channel was very weak it already would have been terminated by Digiturk.
İz TV is a perfect channel for those interested in documented information and I know that it has serious audience mass.
Yes. Digiturk set up this Channel. It must have had a healthy feedback in terms of ratings and awards received, otherwise our Channel would not have survived. TRT also set up a documentary channel, another channel also initiated a documentary broadcast. One wishes for many different styles of documentaries.
What do you say about music complementing documentaries?
Music is extremely important. I was a career photographer once upon a time. The fundamental rules of photography are preset. But a documentary is not a preset scenario under your direction, in your camera or in its precise format. It is collaborative work, an art form in which many people exercise creativity...
OK, how is the interest abroad for documentaries from Turkiye? We know that Haberci and Coşkun ARAL documentaries are being broadcast abroad. What kind of feedback do you get?
Documentaries are a part of sustenance in advanced countries. Obviously there must be a slot in developing countries triggering documentary channel opening. I am still selling to some countries my works done during my Haberci era. There must be a need, curiosity... No one asks whether it is created by a Turk, Venezuelan or American... If it is ethical and contains the essential elements from graphics to music, they subtitle and broadcast it. Abroad, there are buyers of 15 year old documentaries.
What is the documentaries interest of our younger generations?
I am an instructor at the Maltepe University. I conduct 2 hour classes weekly. Some of my students are also my personnel. Some activities we do are continuing. I also participate in group discussions at regional schools. I make an effort to reach as many students as possible in Turkiye. But not as a “documentarist brother” because most don’t even know what a ‘documentary’ is. Telling the kids ‘go watch this’ or ‘see that’ just won’t work. They must watch what they prefer. Families must realize that the time of a child is extremely valuable. They must take care to choose general culture programs suitable for the 3–7 age group. Because education is of highest importance and directs the children. In whatever they watch there are many elements of violence and over exaggerations which will eventually lead perhaps to life vortices, trauma, religious or racial bigotry. For this reason I do not confront them as a documentarist brother. I make presentations according to their age groups because correct information is like medication. Let me elaborate: Even aspirin must be given in a correct manner. Heart conditions, adults, migraine, etc... require particular care. A 1000mg aspirin will drill a hole in the child’s stomach to say the least. Information is also like aspirin or any other medication. Information should not be offered arbitrarily. You just can’t say “I gave it, let them select what they need!” Transferal of information content is different for every age and form of education. Thus I continue my mission and make an effort go to as many schools as possible.
OK, what type of preparation Coşkun Aral conducts prior to a documentary project?
Research is first, pursues investigation and tracks, sees what’s been done and studies them comparatively. Just like a chef selecting ingredients for a special recipe, I work the same way. Timing is extremely important. Let me continue with cookery: An experienced chef might prefer the season of artichokes to select the main ingredient rather than canned preserves, I do the same and there is a separate good time for each research. I collect my information one by one just as the chef will select his main ingredients individually. This is part of the process leading to quality in content and presentation. When you consider it, it is definitely a team work. Dear Coşkun, I know that you treasure hunted all over the world and with the exception of one or two island States, there exists no place you haven’t been to. What is left not done yet, what are you going to do next? I live in a country where project theft is highly common. Therefore I shall continue documentary productions. I can not state here my future projects. But, if there is a sponsor to send me to the moon, I will go to the moon.
I want to thank our dear friend Coşkun ARAL on behalf of ‘Box in a Box Idea’ readers....