Ever since he first picked up a camera at the age of six, Brendon Burton has lived an inspired life in rural Oregon. Over the next 15 years, the young creative grew as a person and a photographer, first creating conceptual pieces and then shifting to more documentary-based shots of his life and travels. Shooting mostly his friends and fellow photographers, each photo represents a memory of road trips, abandoned house adventures, and fun times with loved ones as they travel across Oregon to find locations to create rich narratives.
With each photo, Brendon leaves the story ambiguous, allowing the audience to come to its own conclusion. His appreciation for nature shines through in his ability to adapt the mood of each photo to the setting, creating a perfect balance of landscape and portraiture. With his talent for scale, often placing a person in the foreground, it’s easy to feel the vast size of his natural surrounding with an air of mystery that wonderfully encapsulates the foggy Pacific Northwest forests he encounters and explores.
We were lucky enough to catch up with him between his travels for a behind the lens look into is work.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey into photography?
I started shooting at the age of six, if I’m being technical. My parents would always give me disposable cameras whenever we went on vacations to keep me distracted, I was a whirlwind as a kid. I saw the prints of them recently and some actually weren’t that bad, even experimental in a way. (Over half of the roll was of my dog and the other half was of clouds.) As for my modern work I started shooting seriously at the age of sixteen when I got my first DSLR, and I started doing more creative stuff at the start of my three hundred sixty five day project.
Why do you create?
I create because I don’t really know what else I would be doing. Honestly, I don’t have the slightest idea of where anyone would be without it. Human beings just instinctually make things as a byproduct of living with a consciousness and opposable thumbs. What’s the point otherwise?
What keeps you inspired?
I used to say things like looking at mood boards I make for myself and watching my favorite movies or listening to my favorite music, but lately I think what has been inspiring me has been real life experiences. My work has shifted a lot in the past year, I’ve been shooting in a much more documentary style than I am used to. I’ve realized that I haven’t moved away from conceptual photography, my life and experiences have just become more interesting than they once were. I don’t feel the need to create a made up storyline for a photo like I used to. I’m happy to admit my everyday life is just as inspiring as my daydreams once were. A quote from Mark Twain that has stuck with me lately has been “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obligated to stick to possibilities, truth isn’t.”
What was the first photograph that really made you proud to be a photographer?
The first photo that really made me proud of being a photographer would be one I took early on in my 365 project, I did something along the lines of shoving a fog machine up my coat and let the smoke pour out the hood. It’s very cringe-inducing for me to look back on my old work but I still think that photo was surprisingly well composed and eye-catching, even if it was a bit of a fluke.
Take us through a typical day of shooting.
I’m lucky enough to live with all photographers, so we frequently go driving aimlessly with the intention of finding abandoned places and weird unique landscapes all over Oregon. A few days ago I got back from a week long trip to a ghost town. We all keep our eyes on the surrounding areas and start screaming at everyone if we see a big decaying roof in the distance or if there is a fog bank rolling through the forest up a logging road. My all-time favorite memories have been made on days like that, and the spontaneous travel and creation with people I love is what I am going to miss most about Oregon, as I move to New York City over the next month. It’s taught me how to appreciate the world we live in, not to mention how to comfortably sleep in a car with four other artists and all of their equipment.
What is your favorite shooting location?
My favorite location to shoot at is actually a large expanse of land that I just categorize as “eastern Oregon.” Anywhere east of the Cascade mountain range was so foreign to me as a child, but now I have the freedom to see the high desert and travel through expansive landscapes filled with sagebrush, rock formations, and shells of pioneer houses. It’s like visiting a different planet to me. The desert gives me a similar feeling that the ocean does; one of isolation and a reminder of how small we are. The desert also has lots of weird bugs and lizards.
What challenges have you faced while creating?
My most common challenge has been getting access to places I shouldn’t be. I don’t want to mention any illegalities specifically but sometimes climbing over barbwire and through broken windows is horrifying, especially in rural areas where a majority of the population carries a weapon of some kind.
What’s a must have in your gear bag?
My gear bag always has at least one film camera along with my DSLR, I’m very indecisive with what medium I like to shoot on at any given moment. I also always have a pocketknife and a flashlight of some kind, if I’m going to be stupid enough to go to dangerous places alone I might as well be prepared for the worst.
How much post processing goes into a completed photo?
I shoot in RAW at all times now, I wish I did at a younger age because I have complete control over the image. I used to shoot with prime lenses exclusively but I’ve been using a zoom nonstop lately, and I like my images to have little to no extreme post done to my work other than colors. Occasionally I will composite when I find the image lacking in content, but that’s rare. I’m thankful I did a conceptual 365 early on, it helped me teach myself how to expand and composite when necessary.
If you could define your style, what would you call it?
This question is so great because I’m always stumped when it’s asked. I guess my style lately has been a mix of “Children of the Corn” with vaguely “Post Nuclear Fallout Exploration.” I’m so obsessed with adding ambiguity to my work now, if I can come up with more than one storyline behind the image, I’ve succeeded.
What would be your dream location?
A glass geodesic dome greenhouse in the middle of the desert.
Describe your dream shoot.
I suppose it would involve lots of unnecessary travel and unlimited film. I don’t mind shooting my friends and fellow photographers but having assistance with things like hair and makeup and wardrobe would certainly come in handy.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
You have to actually push yourself into uncomfortable situations and accept your mistakes. I’ve beaten myself up over so many things and have come close to quitting photography because I couldn’t bring myself to make it work for me. I felt as if I had to constantly evolve into some refined style reminiscent of my old “conceptual” work. Photography is one of the most limiting art forms because you can only create from what is real to begin with yet at its core is the requirement for immersion in the surroundings. You won’t be able to have the groundwork for something meaningful unless you can quite literally see it in your own life and everyone has the potential for that I think. It’s about documentation in the end, regardless of your style or what category you classify yourself in. Regardless of the merit of the photo, it was you behind or in front of the camera actually living it. You might as well enjoy the moment.
Thank you so much Brendon! If you would like to see more of this talented photographer’s work, check out his website!
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