Legendary film photographer Christopher Burkett is in a race against time to finalize his lasting legacy


posted Monday, April 16, 2018 at 3:00 PM EDT


Large-format film photographer Christopher Burkett was born in 1951 and has been photographing since 1975. In 1979, he began to pursue photography full-time and since then, he has continued working with film while photographing diverse American landscapes. Today, he almost exclusively photographs using 8 x 10" color transparencies. However, the available materials with which Burkett can work is dwindling and production on his materials has stopped. Burkett is in a race against time.

For photographers who continue to work with film, to suggest that they ought to simply start shooting digital is not going to be well-received. For Burkett in particular, he is considered to be a master of color printing and insists upon rigorous consistency throughout his body of work. Burkett has been photographing the American landscape for over four decades and there's a tangible consistency throughout his entire portfolio. His photographic process is precise, practiced and integral to the final prints he makes. 

Burkett considers the 8 x 10 format to offer the ultimate in image quality. While digital has come a long way and can certainly best smaller film formats in perhaps all respects, for those desiring the ultimate in detail, a print from an 8 x 10 film shot is tough to top. For Burkett, it simply won't be bested.

"If you're really trying to work with photography, you find out real rapidly is that seeing things and photographing them can be quite different. And in fact, you have an image from that viewpoint of the camera is actually higher resolution than you would normally experience the world from that viewpoint and that angle. So you have essentially a certain element, I can't really call it super realism because it's real, but it's more real than what we normally see," Burkett says to PBS NewsHour.

Burkett wants people to experience the familiar world in a way that is new and distinct. Capturing images is one part of the creative process, Burkett is also considered to be a true master of printing. Burkett prints on Cibachrome paper, which is now discontinued. "It's the only paper that was ever made that had the dyes in the paper when it was made. Processing takes away all the unwanted dye and you're left with the image itself, which is completely stable because there's no chemical residue in there. There's just dyes in the paper."

Cibachrome was first sold in the 1960s. As digital photography became more prevalent, the demand for film and film products of course diminished and many companies have, and continue to, cease production on analog photography products and supplies. When it was announced in 2011 that Cibachrome would no longer be made, Burkett bought a 10-year supply of the paper. While the actual supply of the paper is one concern, another is that the paper has a limited shelf life. For Burkett, he's in a race against the clock and it is unfortunately an unwinnable race.

"I'm still figuring out how many of different images I want to print as kind of a legacy of my work. There are many times I'm printing images now in certain sizes and I know that's the last time I'm going to print those in that size." Burkett has a deeply emotional connection to his work and when the his supplies are depleted, he will end his photographic career. When the projector and lights in his studio are shut off for the final time, it'll be a stunning collection of art he'll have left behind.

(Via Reddit