At some point, you’ve seen his work because he’s everywhere — documenting -scapes and subjects with a natural eye and unique perspective that opens you up to the splendor, grit and circumstance of the world at large.
A California son who hails from the serene central coastland of San Luis Obispo, Chris Burkard has parlayed his love for cold water, heavy waves, powdered peaks and wild abandon into a celebrated career as one of the pre-eminent American adventure photographers of our time.
His images have graced the covers of our most renowned publications, from the hallowed spreads of SURFER and The Surfer's Journal, to showcasing work in the New Yorker, National Geographic and Outside. He’s a TED speaker. He’s an Instagram sensation. And his clientele for editorial and commercial projects are A-list — Apple, Toyota and Nikon, to name a heavy-hitting few — giving their campaigns the visual lift necessary that make them the stuff of pop culture phenomena.
He roams with intention, reveling in the mystery with camera in hand. And he knows that wherever's next on the map must involve great sound while the journey's in motion.
Chris flipped the coin for Yosemite — an iconic California park nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, whose majesty always makes for great escape and a solid reset. Now settle into his mobile office Sprinter and prepare for serious van envy as we talk process on projects, what drives his inspiration and how Polk DB Plus speakers make the ride of life what it is — unforgettable.
You've seen so much, captured it with the lens and always keep things fresh, innovative and exciting. What inspires you to do that?
It's such a good question - and it's funny because this is something that has changed a lot over the years. When I was a younger photographer, it was always photographs, photographers, books and magazines. But now it's so much broader. Music, architecture, geology and great writing. I feel better-rounded now then I was when I was younger because of these wonderful modes of art, the environment and overall expression. I think a big part of that is drawing inspiration from a big pool.
Globe-trotting as much as you do, there’s got to be some essentials you can’t do without — what are they?
I have a lot, certainly, given the locale I’m in. But if I had to narrow it down they’d be noise cancelling headphones, my iPhone and Goal Zero charger, definitely a Polk BOOM Bit or Swimmer Duo, my Leatherman multi-tool, an insulated growler and the mouth harp I bought in India.
Music is such a key part of travel for so many people. What are some songs that get heavier rotation on your expeditions and why?
Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My”. It’s just something that puts me in a good mood all the time, no matter what. And Jose Gonzalez’s “Heartbeats”. I love a good song to chill out to after a long and stressful day of constant on-the-go.
How do you make working remotely work so well for you?
Haha! Well, sadly, I've spent just as much time in front a computer outdoors as most people in an office. Probably more. I guess a big part of it is not getting good at stuff you don't want to do. And I've learned over the years that having help is critical for anyone who wants to work remotely. Whether it's someone watching over your plants and dog, or those who help run business at scale, you need people around that you can rely on in life to help you take things off your plate so you can focus on the important work you're capable of. In my case, it's being creative with a lens.
It's universal in scope, spanning cultures and generations while speaking to the deepest of human emotions. With that in mind, what does music mean to you?
Music is everything. It's what I start and end my day with. It's more than just sound. A good song can change your outlook and entire perspective. And that's what I love about it. That, and finding the perfect song for the moment.
What do you dig the most about how Polk products fit into your life?
Honestly, I beat up everything I own. Totally thrash my stuff. I love having my van dialed with marine-certified DB Plus speakers so the dust, water and dirt that inevitably gets into your rig isn't going to end up thrashing your sound system. I rely on that aspect of them a lot. And I just love their rugged dependability.
When it comes to your work, what’s the single most important message you try to communicate through your photography?
I want people to take risks and live for something greater than a paycheck. I hope that my photography gives them a reason to believe and find something bigger than themselves out in nature.
You're part of a fortunate few who've experienced career and passion working as one. Any advice on how to keep that spirit alive and kicking, and not get too bogged down with the small stuff?
Yes! Don't do it all. Focus on what you love, and only put that out in the world. I meet so many people - photographers mostly - who want to be doing something else. But all they create and promote is what they feel is safe and secure. You need to take risks and constantly be learning. That is what keeps you inspired. Because it's a critical part of our human process to be challenged. And the day we stop that is the day we die.