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Chris Burkard has already taken you to Russia, and now, he wants you to come explore the coastal reaches and pitch perfect breaks of Alaska, the Caribbean, Chile, Christmas Island, Iceland, India, Japan, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Norway, Mexico, and Russia (but hey, you’ve already been there).
Burkard, the senior staff photographer for Surfer magazine, spent the past nine years trotting the globe with wetsuit and camera in hand, and he’s compiled it into a mammoth sized photo book, Distant Shores, which arrived on my desk earlier this week. And so, with a small groan of the foot-and-a-half spine, I opened the hallowed pages of his work.
For starters, let’s discuss the decline and all-but-lost art of the coffee table book. That archaic yet tangible form where a photographer prints his work on paper, collects it in a hardcover book—this one 180 pages long—and lays out the pictures exactly as he intendeds them to be seen. It’s a form that’s interactive in a different way from our swipe and click screen lifestyle, and for a photographer of Burkard’s skill—it’s a form more fitting to his art.
In sports photography there’s documentation and then there’s artistic perception. Burkard lands on the latter of those two, where his pictures move from simply capturing the essence of the action to capturing the essence of the place. In this collection, Iceland represents this best (and also graces the collection’s cover).
Encased in a layer of low hanging clouds, Iceland offered Burkard a mystic light that let the ice take on an azure blue, brighter than the sky. As the surfer, head to toe in night black neoprene, moves through this landscape, you get a sense of the feel of this place. It’s not all frontside snaps and aerials, it’s a way for the viewer to be led through the context of the place, asking them to come along on the adventure of a surf trip.
Which, as Burkard covers in the opening interview, is oftentimes the most celebrated part of visiting these distant shores. The waves can be flat or crumble or get blown out. That’s not the point. The surf is solely the avenue for an adventure to be had.
Although the surf is no slouch, it's the meticulously attention to angle, exposure, and light—Burkard’s construction of a visual guiding that draws you into the trip. And, as I know from personal failed documentation, it’s one thing to go to a place, have the journey, and return—personal satisfaction achieved. It’s another to be able to bring the viewer along, visually, and have them as enamored with the experience as those present. Burkard gives you the globe trotting, all glossy-paged and gleaming.
Growing up, I had a neighbor who took an annual surf trip to a chosen tropical break. At the end of the summer, the neighborhood kids would gather in his garage as he’d set up slides, project them on the back wall, and talk us through the trip. Although not best served in a cold, musty garage, Distant Shores does give you the feeling that Chris is over your shoulder, talking through the breaks, giving a run down of the beer drank and the liveliness of the locals. And, while it's not the same as being there, surfing the world round, Burkard's book—the new king of your coffee table—comes awfully close.
Images ©: Chris Burkard.