When it comes to defining The Modern Explorer, Chris Burkard doesn’t only tick all the boxes but is consistently forging ahead on just what an adventurous life in today’s world can and should look like. He wears many hats, a photographer, creative director, speaker, and author. His visionary perspective has brought him to compelling landscapes, no corner of the Earth out of reach from Chris’ passionate wonder. Between his awe-inspiring films, global campaigns, natural light photos, and his overall mission to express messages through visions and actions, Chris has set the bar for photojournalism—transcending it to an artistic medium like never before. He is in the most simple sense, a true American explorer. We caught up with Chris to talk about his insane 975km Iceland trek, his top gear, and how to stay creative and sharp during this wild year and beyond.
CYTIES: To catch our readers up, you just wrapped an incredible Icelandic trip, one that isn’t for the faint of heart. 975km through Iceland’s glacier rivers, ancient dunes, freshly formed lava rock, cutting wind, rain, dirt, and snow… wow. Have you been this challenged by the elements before?
Chris: Hahaha, to be honest, yes. A few times on trips to Iceland in winter and Alaska I have felt what I would call “the worst nature has to offer.” It’s a humbling experience to be honest and I always feel so small and insignificant in those moments. I think I crave that in some way as it brings me back to the rawest version of myself.
CYTIES: When reflecting back on the wild traverse through Iceland, what’s the moment that’s frozen within your mind like a photograph?
Chris: Definitely when we crossed this one massive dry riverbed. I have spent 7 years documenting these braided streams from above, and now to see them up close, to interact with them on that level felt so intimate and special. We crossed dry beds with crazy patterns, ones with streams that filled them up, and even watched some form in front of us. One morning we awoke to snow that had blown in overnight freezing the river entirely.
CYTIES: We’re getting cold just talking about it, someone brew us a coffee!
Your photojournalism, films, and adventures are inspirational to many, especially during the craziness of 2020. What’s a vital piece of advice you can give to all creators and journey seekers during this trying time?
Chris: I guess the main thing is that when the world shuts down, your office becomes the WORLD. You have to look at where you can work and focus on what is available to you. I had to adjust my gaze on places that I could travel to, Alaska, the American West, the Sierra… just because we cannot all jump on a plane doesn’t mean we cannot experience and tell amazing stories in unique environments. I also sought out stories and projects closer to home.
CYTIES: Besides the obvious, a camera, talk to us about your EDC game, what gear, gadgets, or grooming items can you not leave home without these days?
Chris: You know… It really depends on where I’m going and what I am doing. I think as of right now and this point in my career I rely heavily on my phone for a variety of reasons, that being, communication with my family, coordinating with my team, and lastly, research about everything that I might need to know. On top of that, flying and traveling can sometimes take a toll on my body both mentally and physically so Medterra’s CBD products have totally aided that process of healing and recovery.
My family and the planet are probably the two most important things, I hope my photographs can live on a lot longer than I will.
CYTIES: Drumroll… You knew this was coming, what’s your go-to camera lately?
Chris: Again, I think it depends on where I’m at and what the assignment calls for but honestly, Sony’s Alpha line of mirrorless cameras has never let me down. Whether it’s the A6000 or the newly released A7S III, they are incredibly reliable and portable which allows many of the experiences I have to be far more accessible. Also, I think it’s really important to never underestimate your phone because, at the end of the day, the camera that you have on you is the best camera.
CYTIES: Under an Arctic Sky is a staple for us in the CYTIES office. Talk to us a little bit about North to the Future, any more films in the works?
Chris: Yes totally, glad you asked. A lot of my work comes from a really personal place and I think it’s a really beautiful thing when you put something out that you are deeply connected to. A lot of people have chosen to pursue a career that is similar to mine in the aspect of constantly being “on the go”. My career has provided so many wonderful moments but there is always a sacrifice attached. North to the Future is a short that gives a look into the constant struggle & pain of leaving behind the ones you love in order to experience something new. It gives an honest & intimate look at my texts, calls, and emails home to my wife and two sons. I hope some can relate to this stripped-down look at how I attempt to translate the beauty of what I see to my kids at home. As for films in the works, look out for the film Unnur, it premiered worldwide on September 22nd, It’s the story of Elli Thor raising his daughter as a single parent. It’s something near and dear to me.
CYTIES: We loved Unnur, for all our readers, you must check it out!
You focus a lot on being Climate Neutral Certified, what are some simple life hacks for someone trying to minimize their current footprint?
Chris: Bike! Often, I bike to and from work, and depending on where you go it can sometimes be faster than a car. Change starts at a personal level and doing things like cutting down on plastic can truly make a difference. I use Beeswax wraps for sandwiches and preserving food, something that a lot of people would you saran wrap for. On a larger scale, I think just being conscious of your actions while informing others about various environmental aspects.
CYTIES: With a lifestyle like yours, comes a lot of miles. What’s currently on your playlist that helps coordinate the soundtrack to your adventures.
Chris: Hmm.. lets see, I listen to everything from Merle Haggard to Future, I love music, I find a song for every situation. But, check out my Death Ride Playlist that I listen to for biking.
CYTIES: In 25 years, when you look back at your life, what do you hope your legacy is?
Chris: I guess someone who was willing to stand up for the things that he cared about and believed in even if he was standing alone. My family and the planet are probably the two most important things, I hope my photographs can live on a lot longer than I will.
CYTIES: And finally, it’s non-negotiable, you have to pick one… Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jurassic Park?
Chris: Jurassic Park!
Thanks for taking the time with us Chris, and inspiring the next great adventure with your global presence and influence. Head over to Chris’s online store for some epic prints, gear, and apparel. To all our readers, grab your camera, inspire, and get out there—the world is waiting.