Viewfinder: Brendon Burton
Photographer Brendon Burton grew in up in the small town of Myrtle Creek, Oregon (population 3,439), but now says that “no city is big enough” for him. His photos, however, are mostly set in rural places outside of Portland. Burton’s pictures are evocative and at times surreal, but while his work isn’t photojournalistic, he hesitates to classify it as strictly Fine Art, either. Burton spoke with the Daily Yonder about his work and process.
Daily Yonder: You grew up in the small town of Myrtle Creek, Oregon. What was that like?
Brendon Burton: I spent 18 years of my life in Myrtle Creek, my entire childhood. A lot of my time spent there was also on a farm that my parents started running when I was 10 years old, it certainly gave me a rural experience, it’s safe to say it was my early life surrounded by nature and animals that gave me my application and fascination with landscapes and small rural towns in my work.
DY: You now live in Portland. How did you end up there?
BB: I moved to Portland a year ago, and I am moving to New York this summer. It seems like no city is big enough for me, I suppose. When I first left Myrtle Creek, I moved to Eugene, Oregon to attend the University of Oregon. I stayed for two years and realized it really just wasn’t for me, so I dropped out and moved to Portland with some fellow photographers/artists who felt the same.
DY: When and how did you first start taking pictures?
BB: I started taking photographs when I was very young, I’m extremely thankful that my parents fostered an interest in art and creativity from an early age. They were always buying me disposable cameras and sending me out on my own to find things I was interested in. My fascination with photography really took a turn when I was 17 and first experienced the internet and had a chance to see others’ art. I haven’t put down my camera since.
DY: Many of the photos we’ve featured in the Viewfinder series are photojournalistic. How do you classify your work and why are you drawn to portraiture and conceptual photography?
BB: I could never classify my work really, I like to think that my photos are something that is very purely myself but in all honesty, my art side is influenced strongly by media I’m exposed to, much like everyone else. I think I was just lucky to live somewhere so separated from many things to have a chance to establish my own personality and general interest in what I like to shoot. I’m drawn to portraiture and conceptual work simply because those styles give a chance to tell a strong story, to give things other worldly aspects as well.
DY: What’s your process like? How much time do you spend planning your photos, how much do you think about their meaning ahead of time, and what does it look like when you actually take the pictures?
BB: I used to think on my photos a lot more than I do recently. Lately my work has been extremely candid and spur of the moment, if I take a photo with a theme to it, the influence most likely comes from the location I’m shooting in or the instant feeling I have when I am creating.
DY: Many of your pictures are set in rural landscapes. Do you have a specific place where you take many of these pictures, or are they in different locations?
BB: My photos are in locations all over the west coast. I travel around a lot with friends location scouting, we all love abandoned buildings and weird small towns so I’m lucky I have friends who share such a fascination with the same things as me and will put up with a road trip that involves lots of sudden stops in the middle of nowhere and rushing out of our car with our cameras in tow.
DY: We found you through seeing your photographs on Tumblr. You also blog regularly and have a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. How do you engage with social media?
BB: Social media is a two-headed beast. The trick is utilizing it, not abusing it. I post my work online because I get feedback from other artists I admire along with giving advice to artists who are just starting out and show interest in my style of work. It’s extremely rewarding to network as long as you do it in moderation.
DY: Do you consider yourself a rural photographer?
BB: I guess I consider myself a rural photographer, even with the stigma behind it of being a bunch of old people who like to take photos of old barns out their car windows. It’s somewhat of a very specific art in my opinion, it’s not just about finding these strange desolate areas, it’s how you interact with them as well. While it may be because I grew up in a small town, I truly believe that rural areas are some of the best places to create art. The secret is immersing yourself. Go into abandoned buildings and shoot from the inside, climb up water towers and shoot from above. Of course it’s risky and dangerous and at times illegal but in the end, I think that’s also a large part of the creation process for me. The adrenaline you get from the risks you take are just a bonus for me.