Chris Burkard - Photographer

Where and when did you learn to surf?
I was on a family camping trip at Refugio State Park, just a small reeling point break. It was more difficult than I thought it would be. It was amazing. I think I fell off pretty shortly afterward though.

What was your first board?
I actually bodyboarded for the first 20 years of my life. I have been surfing just for fun. But I personally would rather bodysurf more than anything.

What do you love about surfing?
For me it’s not so much about surfing, but about the ocean and the beauty of the natural world. Surfing can be a cruel, selfish sport in which people feel they have ownership over waves and stuff like that. For me it’s always just been about experiencing the things I love and documenting them. I have gotten a lot of joy out of what I do, and I feel lucky to be able to spread that joy.

You’ve traveled a lot, is there any place that really sticks in your mind?
Iceland is a really special place for me and has helped defined me as a photographer incorporating cold water and striking landscapes. A few years ago I had avery memorable trip to Christmas Island. The island is so remote and the way that the natives and children took me in was heartwarming. They brought me to church and made me feel at home making for a very welcoming and emotional experience.

How did you first get into photography?
Coming out of high school I was into art but hadn’t found a way to express myself artistically. I bought a camera from Goodwill and didn’t have any luck with it. Soon I bought another camera and became obsessed. I found that the camera was a creative outlet for me and I got hooked trying to learn as much as I could. I combined this with my passion for being in the water and started shooting surf images. This helped me land an internship at TransWorld Surf and I kept growing from there.

Do you have a favourite photograph? What is it and why?

Peter Mendria in Chile

This shot of Peter Mendria in Chile led me to win the Red Bull illume contest. It holds great memories for me cause it helped to promote my career but I also enjoy the story behind the image. The image is a culmination of days of rain, checking out surf, and finally at the last session I was able to snap this one. This picture is also backing of my mentality to shoot timeless pictures that will be relevant many years from now.

What do you love about photography?
Photography allows you to be a part of the action and document stories. It is a perfect extension of my body. I can take it pretty much anywhere and tell a story with a photograph.

With the rise of social media photo’s get shared all around the web, often times without proper credit, what are your thoughts on this issue? And how do you deal with it?
Social media photo sharing is great for exposing your imagery and hopefully inspiring the viewers. Yes, photos can go without proper credit but you just have to let some things go. I’m stoked that my images are being shared around the web and I hope that they are credited and linked back to my portfolio.

Besides photography and surfing, do you have anything else that keeps you busy, or that you are passionate about?
I love visiting new, untouched places or cultures that are foreign to me not just for surfing but backpacking and hiking too. I’m a father and husband so I’m passionate about my family and spending time with them. Fatherhood is the best thing in the entire world; honestly, it’s such a game changer. It’s made me want to be home a lot more, and really only travel on the trips that are inspiring and motivate me to be bring forth my best work. This is the beauty of kids: They bring out your best and worst, I think. It makes me see how sometimes I travel for me and it’s selfish. It’s been a cool process of introspection. Long-term fatherhood has helped me want to create a lasting business, something that is going to be around, but have me less

What sort of education have you had?
After completing high school in 2004 I enrolled in classes at Cuesta Junior college. I became drawn to photography and started documenting my friends and the water. I self taught myself in film and digital photography. In 2006 I shadowed landscape photographer Michael Fatali and went on to intern under Transworld Surfing Photo Editor Pete Taras.

What was your very first job?
I used to work at auto shops. I had a passion for restoring old cars. I got to do work on some real classics like the Mercedes Benz Gullwing and the 1957 Chevy Bel-air.

What is your current job and what does it entail?
I do a lot of travel pieces for magazines, Surfer Mag, Patagonia and other publications. I do trips to Iceland and India and obscure places, and that’s sort of my forte. Luckily, they just allow me to do that. For half the year, about February through October, I’m just traveling. I try to plan like 3 or 4 trips for them, and I’m trying to plan trips for some other clients that I work for, Patagonia or whatever. Usually the pieces I do for Surfer are a feature, a travel article or a profile, there’s some sort of purpose for it. The rest of the year I’m home, working in California just because it’s the place I know super well and it’s easy to get great stuff that time of year. Normally it’s 9 months on the road, off and on, and three months or so at home.

How did you get into the position you are today?
One moment that helped to propel my career was the Follow the Light grant. After receiving the award and grant from the Follow the Light Foundation in Larry “Flame” Moore’s honor I was able to make some connections. I went on to take one of my first major journeys that became The California Surf Project, a published book that helped confirm my passion and place in the surf photography community. Since then the Red Bull Illume was a contest that brought my work to a more global scale. It really allowed my work to find homes outside of Surfer Magazine and begin to bring a lot more jobs along with my work with Surfer.

What advice would you give to up and coming photographers?
It’s important that aspiring photographers try not to get too hung up having the best gear. It’s a great method to keep your gear simple and rely on your creativity. I encourage others to search for their own style that defines them through their imagery. It’s nice to have a unique style that ties you to your images and it’s a great feeling when someone can recognize that you took that photo.

What’s it like working for SurferMag?
I’ve been working with Surfer magazine for about 6 years, and I’ve been on retainer for about 2 and a half. It’s interesting, there have been a lot of different photographers that have worked for the magazine over the years, and every photographer is hired for their strength. Certain photographers are amazing contest photographers, certain guys are great in the water, and certain guys are great at shooting portraits. The cool thing about Surfer is that they hired me for my strengths, which are planning trips to off-the-beaten-path places and travel pieces.

What do you like most about your job?
Bringing images back and sharing them with people. Every photo is like a big fish on the wall. It's a story. It evokes all the emotion of when and where. Photos are like the best journal you could ever have of your life. That's what pushes me to work hard, the idea that photos allow people to escape.

Where can we find you online? 

Instagram: @chrisburkard
Twitter: @chrisburkard

Watch some videos on Chris Burkard below:

Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on June 12, 2013
Categories: Interviews