“Hanging on a rope and shooting a rock climber, there’s a lot going on. You’re usually in pretty spectacular places. But to go meet and greet someone for the first time and bring home a good portrait, to me that’s more nerve-racking.”
John Burcham is most at home climbing new routes up the often fragile and absurd sandstone spires of Sedona, but has been adventuring and photographing since college. From his experiences working at a fish cannery to a decade spent living in Alaska, John has developed qualities that differentiate him from others in the field. His blue-collar work ethic and love for wild places allow him to capture still and moving images in exploration and adventure from otherwise inaccessible perspectives under grueling conditions. All the while, John smiles.
Whether he’s shooting high in the Himalayas, in a hospital operating room, or at a studio in town, John constantly engages with his collaborators, subjects, and environment. He has worked for healthcare and outdoor clients including National Geographic, The New York Times, the History Channel, Kahtoola Snowshoes, and Sherpa Adventure Gear.
On pushing out of his comfort zone
“Hanging on a rope and shooting a rock climber, there’s a lot going on. You’re usually in pretty spectacular places, but to go meet and greet someone for the first time and bring home a good portrait, to me that’s more nerve-racking.”
On suffering and self doubt
“From my expeditions I learned it’s about being able to suffer. It’s work and it doesn’t stop. You sleep wondering if you got the shot. I don’t come home like, ‘Oh I’ve got it in the bag.'”
On getting THE photograph
“You give [20 photographers] the same equipment, in the same room, to do a portrait, and you’re going to get 20 different photographs. Are two or three going to be better than the others? Yes. And then why are those better? Design is such a hard thing. How do you teach it? How do you learn from it? Because there isn’t a right answer.”
“Experience, no experience, there’s no right answer other than the photo. We all know when we see that. That photograph.”
On the importance of finding your own inspiration
“Like musicians try not to listen to too much, just get out and start creating. I’m trying to do more of that.”
“I’d say going back I would definitely have wanted to learn more. Even back then, I should have learned lighting techniques, studied some of the other [photographers]. One of the big influencers was Galen Rowell back in the day. I’d read his book Mountain Light and that blew me away – it was a turning point… he was a huge mentor I think to all adventure photographers. He’s the man.”
“Video crews, they work together, and photographers have always been the lone artists. It’s fun when you can work with someone. You’re 2 people that can speak the same language, and I find that’s a good way to learn.”
On the importance of never stopping learning
“that’s why I’ll never tire of it, because the learning curve never stops. It’s like an exploration.”