New Photo Book: Chris Brunkhart Takes Us Back

Brunkhart

Chris Brunkhart is a photographer from the Northwest who spent snowboarding's golden years documenting our culture. As the young "sport" exploded, Brunkhart traveled the world on assignment for the mags and shot with the legends like Craig Kelly and Jamie Lynn. In those days—the 90s—Brunkhart's images could be seen all over. There were lots of black and whites, enigmatic riders in far-flung locations and stormy days at Baker. And now, with the release of his forthcoming, self-published book How Many Dreams In The Dark? The Photography Of Chris Brunkhart we'll be transported back in time. We got Brunkhart on the phone to answer a few questions about this book and the conversation rambled a bit about his process, the legends, and the old days.

Craig Kelly in Chile, late 90s.
Craig Kelly in Chile, late 90s.

This first shot it's Craig Kelly?

Yeah, these are the kinds of photos I like to take—environmental portraits—catching people at ease, in their surroundings. This was near Concepcion, Chile. We were on a snowboard tour, but we spent a lot of time on the beach. There were groups of fishermen using horses to pull in their boats. We just kinda sat there and watched—we were gonna surf.  I think it was '97, '98.

Keeping track of stuff like the dates must be tough?

Yeah. I went through—I estimate—forty thousand slides and negatives and stuff. None of it is digital. It's all old school: Kodachromes, Ilford film. I whittled it down to twelve hundred to chose from for the book and in the end its about 220-230 photos.

That's quite an editing job.

Well, I've been at it awhile. I've been working on it since last April. I thought I was gonna be done sooner. Silly me.

Did you shoot a lot with Craig?

Actually my first snowboarding photo that ran in a big magazine was a shot of Craig in TransWorld. It was 1990/1991—the contents page. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. Craig was going off this hip at the Westbeach Classic … but I didn't really shoot with him until like 5 or 6 years later. I really grew up with Matt Donahue, Jamie Lynn, Jeff Fulton, Mike Estes … Hood and Mount Baker was my home turf. I would split my time between those places. Jamie I've known since he was a sophomore in high school, pretty much took him on his first road trips … Donahue, too. Seeing them come up riding and watching them get better and better. I remember not understanding why magazines wouldn't run photos of 'em at first … but they caught on eventually.

Brunkhart

What about this Burnside shot?

I think this was my first trip there. Burnside just had that one bank. I always went back and would see it grow and grow. The skaters just took it over … skateboarding and snowboarding are just about doing it. People tell you no or "you can't ride here." But you do it anyway. You've gotta follow your passion, follow your dreams. I don't know who the skater is in this shot, it's one of the few unknowns in my book. I've been pretty good with figuring out who is in the shots, or tracking someone down who knows …

Brunkhart

Here's Craig hiking Virrauca.

That's outside of Pucón in Chile. It's a live volcano—at night the top of it glows orange. We hiked up there and looked down into the volcano. The magma was glowing … when a tourist group came up behind us, we rode down the backside, they must've thought we were crazy.

Brunkhart
Backside tailslide, with a guitar player …

Yeah, Salzburg Austria at 3 a.m. It's Dan Peterka doing the tailslide and Matt Donahue playing guitar. Those two and me and a guy named Mark Hibdon started The Movement snowboards and this was our first trip … We were headed to Prague that night and the next train was at 3, so we sat there on the platform waiting. This photo totally epitomizes for me, being on the road, travelling with your buddies. Yeah, it's 3a.m. and there's no one else around and we're entertaining ourselves. Waiting for the train …

danpeterka_prague

And someone jumping off a bridge.

That's Peterka again. He's committed. We had this whole thing about jumping off bridges and finding swimming holes. I had a dream about doing a story on swimming holes—we'd find them everywhere we went. But the photo speaks about jumping in, "taking the chance" I guess. It's hard to pick a selection of photos for publicity without giving the whole book away … There are so many. I've been putting photos on my facebook for months and people are really stoked, but they're like the B shots and I'm thinking—wait til they see the real ones, the book.

How many of the photos in the book were published previously?

Out of the 220 or so shots, less than half—maybe a quarter? I kept finding photos—Craig, Hetzel at Baker, Jamie,—that had never run and I was like, "What? How did I not see this before?" I found a lot of portraits, too which as I said was one of my favorite things to shoot—not just action, but the real life shots.

Going through all these shots—it's a trip deep down memory lane. How was it for you?

It was kind of heart wrenching. My father passed away last April—I'd been wanting to do this project for like a decade, but when that happened it totally spurred me. I was like, If I wanna do it, I gotta just do it now. So I just sat down and started collecting and looking and editing. It was tough to see photos of Craig or Jeffy Anderson or Jamil [Khan] or Scott Stamnes—people that had passed away and weren't around to tell their stories anymore. And seeing the photos of young Jamie and Donahue or whoever growing up, and capturing these intimate moments with them, it made me feel honored in a way and the more I looked at all this stuff it made me realize that somebody needed to tell this story—snowboarding's coming of age, what we all did. Good or bad or whatever we did it—and I met so many amazing people. I hope my book does it justice. I could probably do two or three … It's not just my story, it's everyone's. I just felt like I needed to do it.

Brunkhart

This shot, footprints in AK.

I was up there with Craig and Tex [Devenport], Matt Goodwill, and Alex Warburton. We were in Yakutat, Alaska. We had been riding via airplane. Craig and I were the last ones out that evening—it was 8 or 9 at night but the sun was still shining and we were hanging out on the glacier waiting for the plane to come back. Craig just went walking off …

Brunkhart

Javas Lehn at Baker.

It's on Hemispheres, right above Chair 8. That was a super fun day, it was Javas and Jamie. I think I was shooting for Walrus Dreams a little movie I made with Ari Marcopolous. I was switching back and forth between shooting photos and Super-8. It was such a beautiful day—rare to get Baker when it's a foot-and-a-half of fresh snow and sunny skies.

Brunkhart

Jeff Anderson at Mammoth.

I went hiking there with Jeff and his brother Billy—it was late Spring. I remember we hiked up over to the backside and saw this gigantic bear, so we just kinda stopped and ate lunch and waited for it to keep moving. It was an awesome day just because Jeffy was a super-cool kid: creative and artistic and all that and Billy was always super fun. So it was a fun time. The filmer is Todd Hazletine. Sometimes you go on these trips and you're just hoping to get that one shot that's like "Yup that was the day."

So you were in with the locals.

Yeah sometimes you just click with certain people—the real people in the real areas and it's fun to get people on their home turf, where they're comfortable because then the photos are so much better. They're at ease and you can see that in their riding style or the moments off the mountain…

Brunkhart

Temple Cummins on the railroad tracks.

We were waiting for a train … we spent all day at the Seattle and Everett train yards. We were gonna take the train to Wenatchee. The whole idea was to do this train trip story, but we couldn't find the spot where the trains were moving slow enough to jump on … we ended up driving. For me it seems like the photos in between destinations always seem to be the best. In between Salzburg and Prague, in between Seattle and the North Cascades …

How did you decide to fund the publication of the book with Kickstarter?

A friend of mine told me about it and I kept putting it off. Then, realizing that corporate sponsors were going to be harder than I thought to get, I was like okay, I'll give it a try and so I put it all together. It's been a pretty good success, I have two weeks left and another 1500 dollars to raise. On Kickstarter if you don't raise all your money, you don't get any money.

So that makes it a risk-free donation?

Yeah, they don't charge until the end. Nobody has been charged yet and they won't be until like August 3rd. It's a cool thing—there's all kinds of cool projects, from arts and crafts to movies to books. All sorts of creative endeavors … people have been responsive, I'm pretty excited that people are behind my project.

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