If you’ve been ‘wowed’ by an exceptional jiu jitsu picture that’s popped up on your Facebook feed over the last couple of years, there’s a good chance we know who took it..
William Burkhardt is the man behind BJJPix.com and one of the most talented photographers within the jiu jitsu community. We caught up with William to discuss his emigration to Brazil and unique style of photography.
Hi William, thanks for talking to us! Could you give us a brief intro on where you are from and when you started training BJJ?
I was raised in the south of France until I was fifteen, then moved to Brussels with my family where I lived until I moved to Brazil in 2009. I started training jiu jitsu with a blue belt friend of mine in Brussels and I got hooked very quickly. A couple of months later, he invited me to go train for three weeks at a Nova União academy in Goiania in the heart of Brazil. I loved everything about the trip: the training everyday, the people, the food, the heat, the tournaments. I came back to Brussels for three months before I decided I would stay in Brazil until I get my black belt.
Where do you now live and train?
I moved to Rio de Janeiro last year because I wanted to get more involved with BJJPix and jiu jitsu. There are many more academies and tournaments here. At first, I stayed at the jiu jitsu hostel Connection Rio for seven months, which is located next to the 1996 World Champion Roberto Gordo Correa’s gym. I liked the training there so I now am part of the team. I visited many cities before such as Paris, Brussels, London, Stockholm, New York, Sydney, Bangkok, Shanghai, Singapore and Los Angeles. I wouldn’t switch any of these cities with Rio. Between the jiu jitsu, the beach, the city and the people – the lifestyle is incredible.
Your website BJJPIX.com showcases your fantastic photography, and you have travelled all over the world snapping at jiu jitsu competitions. How did your interest in photography start?
My father Guy Burkhardt used to be a photographer for a magazine in Paris in his twenties so he introduced me to photography when I was a kid so I knew the basics and could work on my ‘eye’. I always liked photography, but lacked an interesting subject to work with. That would later become jiu jitsu.
When did you decide to start taking pictures at jiu jitsu competitions and what is it you like about sports photography so much?
I’ve been participating at tournaments since I was a white belt. Nobody was taking photos there and I never saw photos on the internet either. I thought those fights could make great photos, so I thought I would try it. I asked permission to enter the mat area and started shooting fights all day at nogi tournament in Brasíla, in September 2010. I got some awesome shots and kept shooting at every tournament I attended. I only really like jiu jitsu photography. It has so many different positions and the faces of the athletes are so intense.
You seem to have an ability to be in the right place at the right time for some amazing images – how do you do it?
It’s work. I sit hours by the mats waiting for action to happen. I will take 1000 to 2000 photos in a day tournament, keep 600 of them, publish 30 on the website and 1 or 2 on my Instagram.
Your photos have a very unique, artistic feel to them; did it take you long to establish your own style of photography?
I try to get as close as possible and take photos at the same level as the fighters – close to the ground. The effect so many people have asked me about is a combination of different setting I came up with on Lightroom. It’s not to bring a vintage effect, but to make all the details of the picture stand out.
You have also released some excellent videos in the past – any plans to do more?
Videos are very cool to make but it’s even more work. Also, if I film, I can’t take photos. I’m planning on doing more instructional videos and BJJ lifestyle videos. I plan to do a video tutorial about photography for jiu jitsu as well.
What would you say has been your favourite experience as a jiu jitsu photographer?
I’ve always been a fan of the big competitors. Jiu Jitsu world champions have techniques that other people don’t have, like secrets. When people got to know my photos I got invitations to take photos at their gyms and train with them. I’ve always been curious to know who they were and how they trained. So I met them all: the Mendes bros, Buchecha, Kyra Gracie, Caio Terra, Bruno Malfacine, Ricardo de la Riva, Royler Gracie, Saulo and Xande Ribeiro and Fábio Gurgel just to name a few. They are all super nice people.
Could you please tell us what your five favourite pictures you have ever taken are and give us a little bit of information on why they are special to you?
As of today (September 2013) I have 31,000 photos taken at BJJ tournaments so it is hard to choose the best five. But here are five I like. They speak for themselves.
Rodolfo Vieira reacts seconds after beating Bernardo Faria in the final of the absolute division at the 2011 Worlds.
Sergio Moraes throws Nivaldo Oliveira in the final of the Brazilian Nationals.
Featherweight Luana Alves gives a hard time to her heavyweight opponent in the blue belt division of the Brazilian nationals 2012.
Sergio Moraes sweeps his opponent in the final of the WPJJC trials in Gramado.
André Galvão x Rafael Lovato at Metamoris II.
Thanks for your time William, is there anything else you would like to say to the jiu jitsu community?
Thanks to the people who are supporting me, BJJPix is going to grow more!