Chris Burkard
Digital Camera World|December 2021
Graeme Green meets the photographer whose thirst for adventure has taken him around the world in search of the perfect wave
Graeme Green
Surf photographer Chris Burkard’s Instagram account reads, “Have camera, will travel.” It’s a low-key description that doesn’t quite do justice to the extremes the 34-year-old goes to for his work – researching, planning and completing epic expeditions to some of the most remote corners of the planet, including beaches and challenging locales in Russia, Norway, Iceland and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

It’s these shoots, which go the extra mile and serve for Burkard as “a personal crusade against the mundane”, that’s led to him working on profitable campaigns for Land Rover, Sony, The North Face and others, and earned him a committed Instagram following of 3.6 million people.

Burkard’s new book, Wayward, documents his photographic adventures from the last 15 years, as well as telling the stories behind the shoots – including succumbing to hypothermia, destroying thousands of pounds worth of camera gear, and spending time in a Russian jail, all in the pursuit of a great image (or the perfect wave).

Here, he talks to Digital Camera about the call of the wild, risk versus reward, swimming with sharks, and learning from mistakes…

What is it that draws you to wild places?

I grew up in a tiny town in California, and wanted to know what was out there in the world. It was about gazing at photos in magazines like National Geographic, and daydreaming. I had a desire to explore.

I didn’t travel growing up. My family couldn’t afford it. We never went on vacations to exotic places. But if you stare at those photographs long enough, you eventually think: “I have to go.” That was my dream.

Photography happened to be the gateway to get me there. It wasn’t that I fell in love with the camera right away. I fell in love with the idea of where it could take me.

You have previously called your adventures “a personal crusade against the mundane”.

Yes. Once I got settled in my career, working for magazines as a surf photographer, I realised quickly that even the dream job can become mundane.

You can feel sedentary and uninspired. I had to find something to inspire and motivate me.

There’s that classic thing about risk and reward. My job, although adventurous, became second nature. I wanted to seek out places off-the-grid and wild: Iceland, Norway, remote Russia, Alaska… places where there was real risk. Those places required more research and effort for me. I’d been experiencing, advertising and selling ‘adventure’ that wasn’t real, going to places like Central America and Australia, where I was being told by the magazine “Go to this wild place”; and you get there, and there’d be Wi-Fi and fine dining and a big hotel. That wasn’t exciting. For me, it’s about the research aspect, finding a place that’s truly raw and unique. I feel like those places ask more of you.

Many people avoid cold and risky situations, but you seek them out.

My relationship with risk and fear and danger is predicated on my experience. I’ve been to Iceland 47 times. I never want people to think I’m aimlessly venturing into the unknown, although I have done that. I’ve learned my lessons. I’ve had my hands slapped. I’ve been stuck in a Russian jail cell because of stupid issues I’ve created. But my willingness to take risks is something I take seriously.

How did you end up in a Russian jail cell?

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