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Chris Burkard: The Awe Inpsirer

Photographer CHRIS BURKARD has gained a worldwide following by capturing the wonder of nature’s most remote landscapes…

There’s a solid chance you already follow adventure photographer Chris Burkard on Instagram. His feed, a patchwork of brilliant colours, bucket-list locations and tiny people in epic landscapes, has amassed a staggering 2.9 million fans. In an ecosystem packed with adventure-chasing storytellers, Burkard is king. Unlike many “influencers” — people who’ve built an army of followers to double-tap formulaic photos for fame and fortune — Burkard didn’t quit a graphic design or marketing day job to jump on the social media bandwagon. At a veteran age — for the medium, anyway — of 31 years, Burkard has been chasing his photographic dreams for well over a decade.

“It’s funny; people want this dreamy story that everything happened so quickly and was effortless, but it was a total pain in the ass, to be completely honest,” Burkard says with a laugh, his voice showing a hint of a California surf-dude accent. Growing up in Pismo Beach, he and his family took trips to places like Yosemite and Joshua Tree that fostered a love of the outdoors. A high school affinity for art classes eventually led him to photography, which he found “more real.”

At first he wanted to be a landscape photographer, but quickly realised he’d never make a living. Instead, he combined his admiration of huge landscapes with documenting the California culture surrounding him. “I saw my friends surfing and I was like, That’s where I want to be. I want to be in the water, or in the mountains,” he says. “I went after it with everything I could.”

Tenacity turned an internship at Surfer magazine into a full-time position, sending Burkard chasing surfers and waves around the globe. For many, landing a staff gig at one of the biggest surf magazines in the world would set the tone for a lifetime soaking up sun in exotic locations on someone else’s dime. But Burkard began to find it grating. He would arrive in Indonesia or Nicaragua, for example, expecting wild adventures, only to find “high-rise hotels, Wi-Fi and fine dining.”

Refusing to accept a never-ending summer’s complacency, Burkard began seeking “places that had been thought of as too cold or dangerous to surf.” This has led to what’s already amounted to a lifetime of adventure in places such as Alaska, Norway and even Russia, where he was detained for 24 hours in a “gnarly private holding room with a one-eyed guard at the door and bars on the doors and windows” for arriving a day before the date on his visa. He was deported to Korea for a day before returning to finish the 12-day trip.

It was Iceland, however, that captured his heart. Burkard has been there 27 times over the past decade, documenting epic winter surf under dancing northern lights. This has culminated in his most recent film, Under an Arctic Sky, which follows six surfers en route to a remote national park, where they find themselves struggling to survive in the region’s worst storm in 25 years.

His days are now spent working as a director, public speaker, and commercial photographer (and starring in commercials himself). The one piece of wisdom he’d offer aspiring photographers? “So often you see people pair their photography with some dead poet’s quote, telling you the mountains are calling and they must go,” he laughs. “Don’t describe what you can already see. Take the time to describe what it felt like when you were there. You’re the storyteller and the sooner you put yourself in your own stories the better they will be.” ■


For the full article grab the March 2018 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.

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