Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Interview with BJJPIX photographer William Burkhardt

William Burkhardt is the photographer behind BJJPIX, and has more than once dipped his toe into a sea of controversy.

 First, with his "Hot or Not" postings on facebook this past January:

Next, with his sexy photoshoot with San Francisco purple belt Jena Sapinoso:

I did a little looking at his other work including his facebook page and it's clear he's quite talented.  (He was named 2014 BJJ Photographer of the Year.)

It also seems to me that he has an interesting attitude towards women... not only for his views on sexualization of women in jiu jitsu, but also the arguable objectification of women in these examples, and because of his wholehearted support of the "PUA" pick up artist/seduction artist community. If you look at William's facebook page, you can see he's attending/listening to pay-per-view broadcasts of "Seductive Instinct" lessons taught by Arash Dibazar.  William filmed a promotional clip he refers to as a  "documentary" about this person, who is a BJJ black belt and "#1 ranked" pick up and seduction artist.

Here's Dibazar's "highlight" reel. I thought this was interesting just for insight into his jiu jitsu practice:

After reading the uproar with people taking both the pro and con positions regarding Ms. Sapinoso's modeling in a gi, I thought it would be interesting to interview William about these issues.  After soliciting input from people in the scene (and I really appreciated all the great suggested questions) I emailed him and below you can see our exchanges, unedited, with his replies in italics.  Enjoy :)

Questions for William Burkhardt

How old are you?
I’m turning 27 this month.

Is photography your profession or your vocation? Both.

Tell us about your education. I dropped out of university after four days.

Are you based in the US now or do you still live in France? I live in Rio de Janeiro since 2012.

Are you married; do you have children? No.

How did you begin treating photography seriously? When I started covering jiu-jitsu tournament in 2010.

How did you get into jiu jitsu? I used to do muay-thai and wanted to learned another martial art so I started jiu-jitsu when I was in Brussels, then moved to Brazil in 2009.
Where do you train and for how long have you trained? I started in Goiania then trained for two years with Roberto Gordo in Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro and now at Ricardo de la Riva in Copacabana.

How long have you been a vegan, and why did you choose to be?
I chose to be vegetarian in 2010 then vegan in 2012 first for health reasons then for moral reasons. If I share posts about veganism it’s because meat consumption is now the number one cause of death in the World, (14 millions deaths from heart attacks caused by animal cholesterol), number one cause of pollution in the world and the biggest holocaust of animals ever known. Gorillas only eat plants and so should we. It’s as simple as that.

Do you view your photography as an unbiased vessel of your subject’s views and agenda, or is your photography an expression of your own?

How do you accomplish that goal without upsetting the subject? Or are the subjects just props for your own artistic expression?
What are your criteria for the subjects you choose to work with? Anything that is exciting to watch. World Champions, badass fighters, beautiful women…

Would you ever choose subjects of other ethnicities? Age groups? Weight classes?

The most recent controversy would probably be your shoot with Jena Sapinoso. How did you meet her?
How many times have you used her as a model?
What is your relationship with her?
What was the intent of the shoot? Was it a gi ad, a boudoir shoot, was she building a modeling portfolio?
Whose idea was it to use the gi?
Whose idea was it to do sexy jiu jitsu pictures? Whose idea was it to be in a hotel room? On a bed?
Who else was present during this shoot? How do you choose who will be present?
What are the photographs showing or saying?

I’ve met Jenna at the World Jiu-Jitsu Expo in Long Beach last year. Then when I came back in San Jos√© to train at Caio’s academy, I had the idea of the shoot. I showed Jenna some of the pictures I had shot before and she said yes. Jenna and I are good friends.

Are you planning more photographs of this type (and with whom, women or men)?  Yes, both.

What do you think about the controversy surrounding these pictures?

I think it got a lot of positive feedback and only a couple of people  reacted the wrong way. First, if a girl wants to show off her body, she is free to do so without random people having to judge her and shame her. Luckily, Jenna is very comfortable with her body and doesn’t care about other people opinions. Men and even women constantly judge other women clothes. They’ll call a girl a slut if she wears too little and a prude if she wears too much. Why can men show theirs nipple and not women? Religious cultures shaming bodies. Everybody is made the same way.
Sexist men will consider women as objects after watching the pics? It’s their behavior that has to change not the women that have to dress more.

What did you think about the uproar when you posted “hot or not?” about Ana Carolina Schmidt on facebook?
That was a rethorical question, of course everybody would think she was pretty. A couple of people overreacted.

Do you think “hot or not” posts and sexy pictures in a gi have objectified women in jiu jitsu? Why or why not?

Do you think interjecting sexuality contributes positively or negatively to women’s status in the BJJ community? Positively.

Do you think people who object to your photos of Ms. Sapinoso are being a prude? Why or why not?

Do you feel you have a responsibility to promote women's jiu jitsu in a positive manner?
I don’t have a responsibility to promote anything. I just take photos of what I like.

What role do you believe female athletes currently play in the jiu jitsu community? Do you think that will change as the sport grows?

Do you recall the “girls of surfing XIII” video on your facebook wall?

[Edit: here is the video to which I was referring:]

 Do you see any differences in how those athletes are portrayed versus how Ms. Sapinoso is portrayed in your work with her?

Do you believe you have influence on how women athletes are perceived in the BJJ community? No.

What is a pick up artist? And what is a seduction artist?

Pick-up artists are about sociology. There is no magic trick. It’s about learning to be the man that women wants. Women seduce men all the time and better than men do. It’s about understanding women. You can look up Arash’s video on YouTube or ask him questions directly to know more about him.

How much do you pay Arash Dibazar to be able to listen to his “Saturday night live lectures”?


Hi William, thank you for your time.  Could you please answer the rest of the questions?  Thanks!

I don't have anything too interesting to answer the other ones. 

1 comment:

Shark Girl said...

Interesting . . . does he have an official IBJJF vest on? Because he definitely makes statements with his photographs.