Photographer Spotlight : David Burdeny

 In News, Phase One, Photographer Spotlight

Tell us about you! 

My formal education is in Architecture. I have an undergraduate degree in interior design and a Masters of Architecture. I graduated in the late 90s and worked in the field for a short time before committing full-time to photography in the early 2000s. Originally from Winnipeg, I moved to Vancouver over twenty years ago and shared a home with my partner, her teenage son, two Siberian Huskies, and a fifteen-pond Chihuahua mix. Vancouver sits next to some of the most beautiful boating cruising grounds, so when not traveling for work or running prints in my studio, you’ll find us cruising the Gulf Islands on our boat or anchored in English Bay for the day.

How did you discover your love for photography, and who were some of your important early influencers?

I received my first camera as a gift when I was about twelve years old. It was a 35mm rangefinder of sorts with minimal features. I was at once enthralled with the process, the physicality of the camera itself, and all the gear that goes with it. There was also something about the latency between clicking the shutter and seeing the drugstore prints that I found motivating. You pressed the shutter and had to wait – sometimes days to see the results. The prints were like little presents, and there was a sense of anticipation as I opened the folder to see the results. I found that distance between the photographic event/experience and the output an important learning tool and it’s something I still cherish to this day. I don’t do a lot of chimping when i shoot and I rarely work on images in the hotel when i travel. Even when I’m back in my studio, I will file the raw files away for months at a time before opening them up for the first time.

The early influences are many, but the work of Keith Carter, Michel Kenna, Robert Polidori, and Richard Misrach tops that list.

What is your favorite underrated photographic tool? Why?

LAB space. I use it along with a preset curve as a final to the second final stage to neutralize the whites and remove any unwanted cast. It ensures without fail the whites will all print the same from image to image. Trying to do the same with RGB sliders would be next to impossible. Most monitors can’t pick up the micro-adjustments you would need to make to match what I can do with one layer in LAB space. I’ve had that curve on my desktop for 20 years and can’t live without it.

Your body of work incorporates many different locations around the world that seem very specifically chosen. What is your process for determining what and where your next project would be?

My early work was largely location-driven. I’d pick a country, city, or particular geographic location and commit to making images there for a certain time, usually two or three weeks. I’ll select the locations based on a host of subjective feelings and the potential that I’ll be able to extract a reasonable amount of material during my time there. Beyond that, I’ll arrive without an agenda or any images in mind and just set out, wandering and letting the place reveal itself to me. It’s all about living and photographing in the moment. If you were to distill the essence of what I do, it’s fundamentally a documentary image. I see something, respond to it, and translate that experience into a print. I’m inspired by the locations I visit, the weather, the mishaps, and all the unknowns that come with location work. I really love the process of managing adversity, of giving up partial control and accepting that I have to make the most of what a particular landscape or streetscape offers up that day. I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of that process, and even though many images end in failure, they prompt me to pick up my other foot, move it forward a step, and try again.

In terms of a signature David Burdeny photograph, what is your philosophy or intent to your post-processing approach with regard to how your finished product appears?

Many of my formal biases were formed decades ago during those early years of design school. The traditional rules of balance and composition – the rule of thirds, the Golden Mean, negative space, Gestalt principles, etc. – were hammered in right from the beginning. We were taught to see a certain way and think critically about the creative process. I think many of my images bear the weight of those early lessons – as far as the capture stage goes. When I get back to the studio, I first run the images through Capture One and get to color grading close to where I think it should be. I’ll spend a lot of time on this, making small adjustments to one image, which could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few weeks. I’ll have a palate in mind based on my memories of the time spent in the field and then apply it to the first image, which then becomes the template for the rest of the series. In the same way one can use framing and composition as part of a typology study, I like to apply the same principles to the intensity and distribution of color from one image to the next as a way to incorporate some kind of continuity from work to work and series to series.

What was the most challenging situation you found yourself in, photographically, and how did you resolve it?

I’ve had my fair share of technical mishaps and failures over the years, from a shutter exploding on day one of a 21-day Kenya trip to my entire kit sliding off a railing onto a cliff below in Barri, Italy. Steve and Brad have always been helpful in these situations, offering technical advice to my panicked emails. Weather, however, has always proven the biggest challenge, and as much as it can make an image, it can do the opposite. On my second trip to Antarctica back in 2006, we ran into heavy fog right as the ship entered Iceberg Alley. The poor visibility lasted the whole duration going in all the way to when we exited a few days later. I had made the trip solely to continue my iceberg studies, and given the effort to get down there, I was disappointed. There was no real resolution in this case, but I think it forced me to revisit work from the previous trip, really dig deep into those files, and pull out some new work that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

What would be your advice to someone who has determined to produce fine art photography and succeed via gallery representation?

I started working with commercial galleries about twenty years ago. It started with one, and over time, the number increased to about ten. Many of those have been there right from the beginning. They are an integral part of what I do and without them I would not be able to make the images I make. Selling work is an art form unto itself, and sharing that end of the spectrum with them allows me to concentrate on making images and prints and running a photography business as professionally as possible.

Know your audience and pursue a relationship with a gallery that aligns with those ideals. That seems like obvious advice, but I made this mistake early on, hoping my work might fit where it wouldn’t, despite the obvious differences. I’d send work to a gallery because they were accepting artist submissions, only to be told, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Endless rejection is tough, regardless of the reason, so pick your battles and pursue leads that are viable.

Learn about the significant costs associated with mounting a show and providing a new dealer with inventory once you start a working relationship. The costs can add up quickly, and having the work on the wall is no guarantee it will sell at that time. A portion of it may move to the stacks and trickle out of the door over the coming months or even years.

Who (or what) has impacted your more recent work and direction?

Prior to the covid shutdown, my work was very travel-centric. When inspiration called, I hopped on a plane and traveled somewhere away from the distractions of home and searched out locations and images. The pandemic changed all that and inspired me to work close to home on something I had always wanted to do – photograph in my own backyard of Canada. I did the Prairie town series I did this work at the height of the pandemic, at a time when the world was still struggling with the fears and anxieties posed by the sudden rupture of everyday life. All the normative practices which strung one day to the next were now subject to scrutiny. We were forced/told to stay put and to fear those we didn’t live with. It was a terrible time, really, and I managed with most of it, but I struggled greatly with the sudden lack of mobility. Until this point, I had always been able to drop what I was doing and spend a few weeks making new work when the inspiration arose. Suddenly I was unable to do so. It was very frustrating. I hadn’t taken any photographs for a year by this point, and in an effort to regain some sense of normalcy, I made a personal commitment to doing something closer to home. I conceived the project as part personal retreat – a quiet time to reflect on the past year and create something that would capture the spirit of this particular time in history. I was interested in exploring themes related to home, family, and isolation – issues that were front and center for me and many others at that time. My point of departure was the ubiquitous lone prairie structure, floating in a sea of winter white or strung along an attenuated horizon – a typology deeply embedded in the Canadian psyche and reminiscent of the first images I made as a child outside Winnipeg.

Is there a subject or location you feel you must photograph before you “hang up the sticks”, so to speak?

I’ve always wanted to create a series from start to end in my studio. As much as I love to travel and roll with the punches, there is something appealing about working close to home in an environment I can control. I have a few ideas brewing but have yet to commit fully to the process. Hopefully, in the next year, if I find the courage to make it happen

If you were behind your camera and could choose anything you wanted to be in your viewfinder, where would you be, and what would you be looking at?

I’d love to undo all I know, wake up twelve years old again with that first camera, and photograph my cats in my bedroom studio like I did the first time 44 years ago. I’d make the same discoveries and suffer the same failures and triumphs all over again. I’ve had the most wonderful journey in the photographic arts all these years, and if I could do it all over again, I would!

Why did you select Capture Integration as your equipment partner?

Steve has been my singular point of contact at CI since I first plunged into the digital world. He sold me my first Phase One back in the mid-2000s and has been there every step of the way for every new acquisition. That kind of continuity is rare in the retail world, and knowing he will be there to offer me sound advice on my next purchase or expertly manage a repair keeps me coming back.

Want to see more of David’s Work

Check out his New Show at Kostuik Galley in Vancouver!

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