Chris Burkard on Arctic Storm

06 August 2014

We think it's fair to say that everyone wants a life like our Network photographer Chris Burkard.

With the ability to catapult a viewer into the moment, his work allows us to collectively experience the highs of arctic surfing, the northern lights, cultural immersions of Cuba and much, much more. That's why this week we're highlighting some of our favorite works by Chris.

We spoke to the California-based photographer about his style, most memorable shoots, recent film, Arctic Storm - Surfing the Ends of the Earth, and much more...

Your SmugMug film, Arctic Storm – Surfing the Ends of the Earth, is extraordinary; so first a couple of questions in relation to that:

When did, as you describe it - your ‘symbiotic relationship’ with the camera first come to light?
I grew up doing art as a subject – I didn’t have photography at first – and was looking for something that allowed me to go further.  I wanted to find an artistic medium that allowed me to be in the moment - the opportunity to have the perfect balance between the marriage of the creative aspect of documenting, and being a part off the action.

What made you such a cold weather fanatic – were there specific experiences in your youth for example?
I’ve never been interested in warm water surfing.  I wanted to make a name for myself and felt inspired by places that felt harder to get to – I want to give myself away to new lands.  The cold water places have been over-looked for essentially being too cold - and they’re not for everyone - but those are the places that feel the most alive for me.  You can search, go further and explore such wild places.

Chris Burkard

What were the most challenging conditions you faced while out there?
It’s always challenging.  The mental challenges are the worst.  Having a mind-set that’s positive and allows you to see things in a positive light is essential; you have to be the eternal optimist.  The most intense moments are in the water – it’s freezing cold, a brutal challenge.  It’s one thing having all the equipment you need, but also being in a situation where you aren’t supposed to survive.  How long can you last?  You need the energy to get back to the car and I’ve had to be helped to walk back when I’ve stayed out too long.  It’s a super slow process warming up - but giving something for your craft is very important to me.  It’s necessary to create something you’re proud of.

Do you find that - and I again quote you - a ‘beauty yet harshness’ to the environment is one of the reasons you are so drawn to these places?
It’s necessary to have challenges in your work – it makes you grow.  Allowing yourself to go to places when it’s a challenge – having those contrasts in conditions that feel remote and harsh.  Some challenges you face are purely access – it’s expensive to get there.  There are all sorts of places I’d like to visit – Russia, Greenland, al Fuego, Chile – they all have potential for great surf.

Chris Burkard

You describe the surfing community as a family due to what they have experienced – who do you like to travel with?
Surfers are all different kinds of people.  I tend to seek out people who I trust and who enjoy the element of suffering/exploring – I like to work with like-minded individuals who enjoy seeing beautiful places.  Those surfers are like mountain climbers – always putting themselves into dangerous positions.  I pick people to travel with who have skill sets that come in handy in the outdoors – it’s very important.

Is there one particular shot you are the most proud of?
It’s so difficult – but an image I took last year of a surfer with a volcano in the background was the Shangri-La of cold water surfing. It was a very special moment – the pinnacle of what is out there.

Chris Burkad

What has been your most defining moment as a photographer?
I won the Red Bull Award in 2010 – it’s such a cool award – and the foundation it brings for a photographer is wonderful.  Also, the image they chose as the winning image spoke to my style and was therefore even more special.

What is it about the ocean that fascinates and inspires you as a photographer?
I grew up around the ocean.  When you think of other crafts – you never see people sit and stare at say a motorcycle jump or snowy peaks – but for ocean people it’s something they stare at for hours.  It speaks to me – even if there are no surfers or athletes to capture – it’s still something I’m passionate about.

It must be hard to share your images?
It’s always hard to share a personal craft, but to show people your pictures and get great feedback – it makes you feel great.  There’s a beauty to that.  I love to do stuff that speaks to inspiring people and getting to the core of what they love.

Learn more about Chris Burkard here & view his incredible film, Arctic Storm, below: