Perhaps you are already acquainted with the artistry of photographer Chris Burkard, who boasts a massive audience on Instagram and captures the essence of untamed locales for 4 million followers. His portfolio, featured in numerous publications, chronicles his expeditions through the seven seas, capturing surreal seascapes, rugged coastlines, frigid North Atlantic surfing, and serene tropical scenes, showcasing the vastness and vulnerability of our oceans.
As a child, Burkard lived near the Pacific Ocean in Pismo Beach, California and developed a love for the sea through surfing. He initially wanted to become a mechanic, but later became interested in photography. He gained experience through an internship at TransWorld Surf magazine and eventually landed a job at Surfline, a website that specializes in surf content and forecasting. Despite being self-taught, Burkard’s photography career has been successful, with works focused on travel and adventure. He has published multiple books, received numerous awards, and has been featured on podcasts and as a regular lecturer. His Ted Talk on the joy of cold water surfing has garnered over 2 million views.
After exploring the coast of western Canada, he became interested in finding new locations and stories that were not as commonly known among surfers. He recalls, “Surfline was the start of a busy few years where I continuously added new stamps to my passport, journeying from Costa Rica to Kiribati, and from Mexico to the Mentawai Islands.” However, it wasn’t until he visited Tofino and Haida Gwaii, islands in western Canada, that he truly grasped the meaning of the phrase “never turn your back on the ocean.”
This was my initial encounter with a completely unfiltered ocean, a stark contrast to the serene Pacific I was accustomed to. The frigid temperatures and dynamic tide patterns gave it a ferocious edge. This experience sparked a desire within me to push beyond limits and explore the realm of the unknown. I discovered that taking risks, not only in my personal life but also in my artistic pursuits, added a profound dimension to the narratives captured through my camera lens, evoking a more intense and heartfelt response.
I was captivated by the stark and lonely splendor of distant locations – wild, unforgiving landscapes where land and sea converge. Locations such as Alaska, the Faroe Islands, the Aleutian Islands, the easternmost part of Russia, Chile, Iceland, and Norway, where tall granite peaks abruptly give way to frigid ocean waters.
Burkard’s newest photography book aimed to create a more all-encompassing compilation compared to his previous works.
“I have recently been recognized for work that was not previously well-known. It is fulfilling to see it finally being acknowledged. I am also eager to share my perspective on not just oceans and beaches, but also on communities, food, and the unique aspects that make them intriguing.”
As I have aged, my objectives have changed. In the beginning of my profession, my goal was to have a photograph featured on the cover of Surfer magazine. Later on, I focused on pursuing various awards. Now, my focus is on how I can use my work to inspire and support individuals who have stories to share, and also advocate for the places that have deeply nourished my spirit.
His photography often displays a deliberate setup, yet also reflects a sense of spontaneity that demands both patience and readiness. In his words, “The sea is a valuable instructor.” Unlike other dynamic sports, surf photography requires a waiting game and patience. One must seek out storms and be prepared to capture the moment, as the window of opportunity is brief. Each time is unique, and one must make the most of it and appreciate what is captured.
Burkard has a color vision deficiency, and while he may have difficulty coordinating his clothing, it has possibly influenced his distinct approach to photography. Rather than seeking out complementary colors in his images, he focuses on contrast. During his recent trip, he was specifically looking for bold and contrasting color combinations that highlight the contrast between light and dark. He speculates that his color-blindness may have actually helped him to better capture this contrast in his photos.
Burkard is very transparent with his audience on social media, detailing the logistics of a shoot or journey, or sharing some detail of the story behind the photograph. “I don’t believe Instagram has made my career but it has given me more access to the story – the readers, the communities – and when you are given that, you take advantage.”
He continuously visits cold-water surfing locations, a fixation that originated from a journey to Iceland.
I have encountered many non-surfers during my travels. For example, in small villages in the Faroe Islands, people may be surprised to see someone in the water because it has only been in the past 5-10 years that recreational ocean activities have become popular. In these cold regions, it is common for people to know someone who has tragically lost their life at sea. These communities are filled with similar heartbreaking stories. Therefore, it is extremely empowering when people witness me surfing and realize that it is possible to find joy in the ocean, despite its harsh realities.