Memorial piece for Chris Radok
Originally written for Creative Loafing website, January 2010
In February of 1999, a local magazine sent me to photograph Francis Ford Coppola at the old Sonoma’s. It was my second-ever shoot for this magazine, and because Coppola is the guest of honor, I’m more than a little nervous. All of the local media got ten minutes each to photograph and interview Coppola, and Loafing’s time was right ahead of mine. Waiting in line, Chris Radok sees me, comes over and says, “This is bullsh*t. I could be home watching cartoons right now,” and walks off. All I could do was laugh.
That, in his short, direct way was Chris. He did not care for the hoops that you often had to jump through in media, or whether one’s name was bigger than someone else. He was there to do his job, get the photo he wanted, and leave. Anything else was generally unnecessary to him, and he would tell you that.
When I started taking photos at shows in 1996, Radok was a well-established name around the region. He had been (seemingly) the only photographer at Loafing for years, along with taking photos for a few different bands. I looked up to him, though I would’ve been afraid to tell him that. Radok was always a man of few words, or often a nod and a grunt. And then, he was off to shoot something else.
Over several years, I did get to know Radok a little better. He really did love photography, and photographing musicians, but the business of music made him choosy about whom he worked with. He was proud of the work he’d done, but he would never admit it. One night at a festival, he came up and eagerly congratulated me about having photos in a record he had just picked up. The record had been released nationally, and Chris was the first person that had said something about the record. I was stunned. Chris is talking to me! Chris is smiling as he’s talking to me! I walked away thinking, “Wow, that was pretty cool.”
Through whatever happened, Chris had this look at all times that could have cut steel bars. It was nearly impossible to rattle him, or throw him off his game. One time, he and I were photographing Jerry Lee Lewis at a festival, and Chris decided to use his well-known fisheye lens, and get a close-up shot of The Killer. Lewis slowly looked up at Chris, and proceeded to quietly talk smack to him, all while playing a solo. Chris just shook his head as he walked off, and the photo of Lewis talking straight to the camera ran in the following week’s Loafing.
Over the years, be it with Loafing, or on his own, Chris Radok created a body of work that is becoming hard to find in this business. He shot what he wanted to shoot, he did the job that was requested of him, and he tried to live his life on his own terms. I have wanted to see a retrospective of his work for a very long time, something that made others realize just how good Chris was. Yet Chris would never admitted to such things. He would’ve shrugged his shoulders, said “It was a job,” and walked off.
Safe travels, Chris.
January 11, 2011