Photographer Christopher Burkett was born so near-sighted that as a small child he would recognize his family by their fuzzy outlines and the sounds of their voices. When he entered grade-school he got his first pair of glasses, and he remembers the miracle of seeing that trees had millions of leaves and the sky held clouds formerly hidden from his sight. Since that time he has been in awe of the magnificence of nature, and has worked throughout his life to perfect ways to capture that magic in a photograph. Working tirelessly in his darkroom in Oregon, today Burkett is recognized as one of the great masters of hand-printed color photography.
Burkett shuns all digital enhancements and creates every print in his own darkroom where he works 12-hour days, six days a week, 10 months of the year. Two months are reserved for travel to find new wild places to photograph. Often he will wait for days for the light to be exactly right as it shines on leaves or grass. In Maine in 1994, Burkett watched carefully to find the perfect light to capture “Sunrise and Autumn Blueberries.” After three days of observation he realized that the light was only right for fifteen seconds as the sun rose, and so in those moments he created one of his most famour photographs. Capturing the magnificence of 'Glowing Autumn Forest,' reproduced here, was an experience Burkett will always remember. "I was so excited by what I had done," says the photographer, "that I had to fly home from Kentucky to my darkroom right away to print the image. My wife, Ruth, was left behind to drive the van and all the equipment home, but she understood that something of tremendous importance had happened that just couldn't wait for the long drive home."
Notes by Jeffrey Price, Gallerist and Owner of Artists' Market
I feel the exhibition of Burkett's photographs has meaning as well as beauty. “In today’s chaotic world it is wonderful – and even necessary – to be reminded that the world is indeed a spectacular and precious place. These photographs are a testament to all that is good in the world, and a reminder that we are blessed to share the planet with these places.”
Notes by Terry Etherton, gallerist, Tuscon, AZ
Formal poise and lushly nuanced colors characterize the intimate ambience of Christopher Burkett's photographs. Burkett spends hours in the darkroom coaxing sharp detail, rich color, and subtle tonal transitions from the intimate views of the landscapes he prefers. Rather than focusing on panoramic vistas, the angles he chooses fall on frosty, fallen leaves or wild apples on a tangle of tree branches, evoking a contemplative response from the viewer. Burkett's images carry the sensuous immanence of nature within the context of the well-ordered formal arrangement of pictorial structure. Shooting either with a Hasselblad or an 8 x 10 view camera, from which he prints glowing Cibachrome prints, Burkett starts at first light and winds up after sunset, accumulating the natural light of the day. Capturing yellow-tinged lily pads on a blue mill pond can take two weeks, at other times the flash of insight mingled with a moment of light under a dark sky results in single shot that occurs once in a lifetime.
Burkett's work in the printing trade, where he specialized in four-color printing, helped in the development of his advanced printing techniques, one of which is his unique use of multiple-stage masking for Cibachrome printing. Born in 1951 and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Burkett has transformed photographic technique into a spiritual endeavor. In 1975, while he was a brother in a Christian order, he became interested in photography as means of expressing the grace, light, and beauty, present in the world of nature. It was here that he realized the goal and purpose of his photography, as he states, to provide a brief if somewhat veiled, glimpse into that clear and brilliant world of light and power. The compelling visual quality of Burkett’s work is further elicited by Vincent Rossi in the preface to Burkett's first book, Intimations of Paradise. “In his willingness to go to amazing lengths to find the right subjects in the right circumstances of light, color and composition, one can clearly see that this artist has caught a glimpse of the lost paradise in the natural world.” In Burkett’s new book Resplendent Light, James L. Enyeart speaks of the light that surrounds and defines Christopher Burkett's newest works. “The detailed realism of his subjects, bathed as they are in a light that few people have ever observed in Nature, arrests the flow of time as much as a painting of hummingbirds in flight."
Christoper Burkett comments on his work
"The fine photographic print is much more than a mere reproduction of an image. It is the culmination of the inspiration and vision of the photographer. It is the clearest, most direct and powerful form of the image, and has the ability to move beyond words, ideas and concepts to touch and move the viewer in the most direct and immediate way. In its highest form, the fine print can be a transparent vehicle, boldly communicating with whispers and suggestions of worlds previously unseen and unknown.
No other form of the image can convey as powerfully the subtleties, the presence and the luminosity which can exist in the fine print. The fine print is, in actuality, the culmination of the photographic creative process; each print can legitimately be considered an original work of art.
One of the unique advantages of photography is that multiple prints can be made of the same image, with tremendous creative interpretation possible in the printing process. The form and framework of the image exists at an intermediate stage within the negative (or transparency), but is unrealized and unmanifested until the creation of the fine print.
The fine print is a vital and necessary part of the whole creative photographic process, and is the final step which conveys to the viewer the essence of what was seen and felt at the moment of exposure of the film. With a complete understanding of all the intermediate steps that lead to culmination in the final print, the photographer can work most effectively with the photographic materials at hand, and can best use the whole process in the most creative way.
To master the photographic process, it is necessary to intuitively understand the nature of light and color; and their interactions with film and sensitized materials, from the moment of exposure to the final print. Only by a complete knowledge of the entire process can a person fully utilize the materials for the clearest and most complete artistic expression.
That is why I am the only one who will print any of my own photographs, both now and in the future. You can be assured that each print is carefully and meticulously printed, one at a time, by myself, to the highest standards. When I print, I spend unlimited time on each image, working to fine-tune the image until it reaches a point that is close to perfection, and expresses that which I see and feel.
Only in this way is it possible for the print to have the ability to speak to the viewer of the mysteries around us; those that fill earth and heaven, and make our souls sing with thanksgiving and praise. This is the purpose and goal I pursue endlessly."
The Christopher Burkett Gallery at Artists' Market, 2008