Just months after losing their parents, Chris Radok (aka Kodar) and his longtime friend Lori Bilger were discussing their own funerals. They both decided that when the time came, they wanted their friends and family to celebrate their lives instead of taking part in mournful send-offs.
Neither of them could have imagined that on Jan. 10, the 55-year-old Radok's life would come to an end.
Radok, a photographer who shot for Creative Loafing for more than a decade (from 1994-2010), chronicled Charlotte's underground scene — fringe bands, artists, strippers, etc. — utilizing his famed fish-eye lens. In doing so, he inadvertently became a part of the off-the-radar culture he'd been recording, even performing with local notables like musician Unknown Hinson, among others. His death was the first homicide of 2011; he was killed in his east Charlotte home, allegedly by 29-year-old Antoine Young — who currently sits in jail charged with first-degree murder.
Since that tragic incident, Bilger — charged with the memory of the pact she'd formed — and a collection of Radok's friends joined forces (in a group that's been dubbed The Chris Radok Photography Preservation Brain Trust) to plan a memorial that's anything but "mournful." What they came up with was a month-long celebration of their friend's life and work, with events including:
• Positively Radok: An exhibition featuring work from Radok's slide collection. Opening July 2 at Twenty-Two, 1500 Central Ave. www.gallerytwentytwo.com.
• Kodar Scavenger Hunt: Highlighting Radok's favorite places and things. Beginning July 2 at Twenty-Two (also ending at the same venue).
• Skate to Commemorate Kodar the Great: A cookout featuring "old people with skateboards." Small cost to skate. Noon-6 p.m. July 16 at the Greyson Skate Park, 750 Beal St.
• Radok Fest: A night of music and storytelling, with sounds provided by ANTiSEEN, Snagglepuss and many more. Tickets: $10. 8 p.m. July 23 at Tremont Music Hall, 400 W. Tremont Ave.
"We wanted to give a venue for each of his groups to come together," Bilger said.
The show at Twenty-Two, for example, will reportedly show a side of Radok's work that people won't be expecting to see.
"I pulled his slides and got a body of work," explained Bilger. "This is going to be his earlier work, when he was learning about taking pictures of people and light and just movement and longer exposures. Really developing his style."
Bilger was very familiar with the pictures. When they were taken, many in the early 1980s, Radok was spending a lot of time with her and her boyfriend (now husband). He'd come to Charlotte from Asheville to skateboard and even lived with the Bilgers for a while.
"There are no commercial shots in [the exhibit], so it's mostly about his life. It's mostly Charlotte-oriented," Bilger said.
Rodney Raines, co-owner of Twenty-Two, said he'd always admired Radok's talent and work ethic, and that's why he wanted to be a part of the celebration. "You never saw him without his camera. It's like it was an extension of his arm," said Raines. "He had a great technical eye."
Along with his photography, Radok's performance side will also be commemorated — thanks to the relationships he forged with local musicians.
"This is something the bands really wanted to do. They wanted to come together and play for him and everything else grew around it," said Bilger. "We were trying to plan the music festival within the first weeks of his passing. But it got really big and we knew we needed more time."
Once July comes to a close and the official celebration is complete, Bilger and her collective don't plan to stop recognizing their late friend; the Brain Trust is currently in the process of building a website to make Radok's work available to friends and family, both here and abroad.
Time hasn't lessened the pain for Bilger, who says Radok was like an uncle to her children.
"There's been times where Chris disappeared for several months and then he'd come back and be back in our lives for a while. It's almost like it's one of those periods where he's not here," she said. "But it's hard. It's still a shock."