A LOOK THROUGH THE WELL-TRAVELLED LENS OF CHRIS BURKARD : BY BEN BUGDEN
Chris Burkard never thought he'd make a career from taking photos, in fact he maintains it was just something he “sort of fell into”. He also admits that he never even boarded a plane until he was in his twenties. Mind blowing revelations from a man who has risen to become one of surfing and the outdoor world's most prolific travel photographers, documenting some of the world's most remote and harsh locations, and doing it all with the keen eye of a trained landscape photographer.
“I would use my camera as a means to document my quick weekend getaways,” remembers Chris. “Almost as a way to prove that I was there. I never travelled at all as a kid ... ever. I don't even think I got on a plane till I was in my twenties. A camera was my golden ticket to get out of my small town. It was my vehicle to see the world. It was the creative method that really stuck with me – the opportunity to be in the moment. I did art in high school and loved it, so that was all I knew, but as soon as a camera was in my hand it changed. No longer was I stuck drawing or painting from a distance, I was part of the moment.”
Under the tutelage of Michael Fatali (a world renowned landscape photographer), Chris' work quickly progressed from weekend snapshots to something with much more depth.
“Michael still influences my work," says Chris. “Every time I see his images I am drawn back to his process. He shoots large format film with a heavy camera and even heavier tripod, which he lugs into the remote canyons and landscapes of the American southwest. So every image he shoots is thought out. He can only bring three or four sheets of film with him, and that is what makes his work so special, the patience he brings to it. That is something I am constantly reminded of – be patient with nature and she will show you things you never thought possible.”
Rather than taking the well-worn path of shooting surfing in the equatorial regions of the globe, Chris had more interest in taking his act to the ball-shrinking regions closer to the poles.
“I was just never interested in being surrounded by people,” he explains. “That's not what made me want to pick up a camera. I grew up frolicking on the central Californian coast – Big Sur and remote beaches where solitude is your best friend. You learn to be comfortable roaming alone on the beach, and it was those experiences that brought me close to nature. I have wanted to get more and more and more remote since I started my career. What started as just a fun experience has turned into a full-blown obsession.“
While it's hard not to get swept up in the romantic whirlwind of travel-lust looking at his images, Chris' obsession with these frigid and remote destinations isn't without its challenges and he often comes face to face with the brutal realities of the frigid remoteness he seeks.
“It's freaking cold ... like frostbite cold,” exclaims Chris. “I know because I have had it. I got thrown in a Russian jail cell and deported to Korea when I was in my early twenties. I learned really fast that I wasn't invincible. It's not just all fun and games, it's the real world and if you want to be a part of it you have to be ready for bumps and bruises along the way. Nothing comes easy and the logistics are a nightmare. It takes three or four years to plan these trips. People see the images and they don't understand the time and energy that goes into creating those moments. You have to really give something of your self to make this stuff happen. I guess that's why I feel so emotionally invested. To me that is the essence of life – the moments that leave us with scars – they are the ones you remember.”