Chris Bukard, photographer – there’s a good chance you’ve heard the name by now. Since he won the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2010, that name has travelled worldwide. That beautiful sun-drenched photo of Peter Media surfing in Chile has put him rightfully in the spotlight.
Just 22 years old but already published in every surf magazine worth mentioning and the man behind the “California Surf Project”, he was also the winner of the first Follow the Light Foundation grant. His success didn’t just come out of the blue.
As for the camera he used that day, that’s already gone into folklore. While his winning image has already been burned into our imaginations, the camera he shot it with is lost forever. Apparently it’s lying at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean somewhere. He lost it a day after the shoot in April 2009 after the boat driver made a wrong turn.
To find out about the man in his own words, read our exclusive interview with Chris fresh from his victory in Dublin on August 31.
How do you feel about winning the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2010?
I’m overjoyed, it’s hard to put into words being able to be nominated and to win this award in front of all your peers and people I respect, I’m truly blessed. I feel really lucky right now. My expectations were to put a photo in there and hope for a few editors to see it.
To be a finalist was a huge honour and to be able to come here was a huge honor. Being up on that stage was an out of body experience. I didn’t know what to think. There are few moments in a photographer’s life where he is truly appreciated for the work he does and to be looked at as someone who creates beautiful images. We’re usually the workhorses that are behind the scenes and this is something I could only dream of. I’m really grateful.
More than anything I’m grateful to the surfer, Peter Mendia, he’s the guy who paddled out there and made it happen. And to the landscape: we live in such a beautiful place and my main goal in photography has always been to inspire people to see and seek out the world around them.
What’s the story behind the shot?
We went to Chile in 2009, and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We sat in the rain for weeks and it was terrible. We woke up one morning and it was bluebird skies and the waves were the best I’d ever seen.
We went down to check all these spots and this was the last place we went. This was the last session of the day and I hiked up to a sand dune so I could get a pulled back shot to capture the whole landscape and environment that the surfer was in. This image was the outcome. For me it was scary. Photographers usually want to get up close to the action but in this case I went further away. I’m lucky I did because this came of it.
For me it’s all about light or the absence of light, dark clouds or a moving storm: the simple moments. Or the most beautiful evening you have ever seen. By shooting a silhouette like in this image it makes them timeless. I want to capture moments on earth like this in their natural state, as if (humans) were not even there.
Is it true that you lost the camera you used to take that shot?
It's true, I lost the camera the day after. It was a big day at an outer reef in Chile, and the boat driver was a little wasted. We had the boat angled the wrong direction and a wave broke really wide, sending us into the impact zone. We rushed the wave head on and it crashed over the top of me, flooding everything and washing my camera to sea.
What was it like being part of Red Bull Illume?
The competition in general was amazing. I looked at these people’s photos and I thought, ‘I need to step up my game’. I did not think there was any chance that I might win. I looked at all these different sports and the beauty that they create and everything that they do and I thought, ‘wow there is such good photography out there now.’
My photo is not flash, it’s not experimental, it’s just natural light in a natural setting and I thought people would be looking for something more technologically advanced and more new age. My photo was almost a step back to just the basics of photography.
What’s next for surf photography?
Surfing photography is going to keep evolving. There’s going to be people pushing the sport in all different ways. I don’t think there is going to be one thing that is the next big thing, but it’s going to be everyone pushing each other to capture more and more incredible images.
As far as technology is concerned the sky is the limit. Flash, different types of lighting and the different studio effects that are done. I think some people are going to revert back to using film and maybe large formats. Surf photography is untapped, there are so many opportunities for everyone to explore and create.
What do you do day to day?
I’m a staff photographer at Surfer Magazine. My day-to-day routine is to check emails and see what the editor and photo editor want. I talk to surfers, check what’s going on and plan what I’m doing in the next weeks, months or years. I usually have trips planned long in advance.
How did you get into photography?
Photography was something that never came easy to me; it was something I had to work on. I took art at school and draw and paint a bit to have fun. I always used to go surfing a lot with my friends and one day I picked up a camera and it was like I had found the most expressive medium I have ever put my hands on. It was everything I wanted to do. I worked hard and I managed to make it into a career. It took me a long time to come up with something like this!
As Overall Winner of Red Bull Illume 2010, Chris Burkard won a Leica S2 camera, a year's supply of 20 SanDisk Extreme Pro 64 GB memory cards and a ProRunner x450 AW camera bag from Lowepro.