Chris Radok, R.I.P.

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Four and a half years ago I wrote a column titled “In Praise of Weirdos.” A friend told me he had read it and liked it, “but I thought it was going to be something about Radok.” He wasn’t kidding and he wasn’t being mean. Chris Radok knew he was different, and that’s what his friends and many of his acquaintances liked about him. It’s also what some people didn’t like about him, but they don’t count because they were wrong, and usually were assholes to boot. Chris Radok was murdered the other day at age 55. I’ll leave details of his death to others, as I want to write about Chris, not his killer.

From 1994 to 2006, Chris worked for Creative Loafing as photographer and photo editor, both freelance and full-time. He started with CL as a distributor, became friends with Don Swan, our resident photographer/distribution manager at that time, and began taking photos for us now and then. (I say “us,” because I was editor of the paper at the time.) It was Don Swan who gave Chris the nickname “Kodar,” a reversal of his surname’s letters, a name many still called him years later. When Don quit, Chris took his place as the paper’s go-to shooter. It's a terrible irony that Don also died at too young an age.

Chris was an all-around unusual guy, often hilariously funny, just as often grumpy and sharp-tongued. His was a natural, easy brand of non-conformity and it came to define him. He was creative in many ways, and nurtured an eclectic list of “interests” a mile long. He was a fine car mechanic, an avid “urban mountain cyclist,” a sometime carpenter, and a huge NASA fan — he could throw out enough details of all the moonshots to make your head spin. He loved motorsports, punk rock, skateboarder culture, blonde strippers, and Guillermo del Toro films. He often shot rock shows for bands, and even wound up for awhile as part of Unknown Hinson’s show.

Sometimes when he and I were both working late at the paper, we’d talk about a thousand different things; nothing seemed to be out of Chris’ range of interest: bilingual families, military uniforms, how to build a sofa, the Dada art movement, the history of bicycles, '70s rock, newspaper page design, Ovaltine, incredibly filthy jokes, Australian bugs, you name it.

As CL photographer, Chris had a knack for thinking up creative images to accompany stories, and he would pour a lot of energy into those special photos, usually for cover stories. His fondness for using a fish-eye lens led me to praise him for many of his shots, and argue with him about others. Chris, see, wasn’t your standard-issue “all shots are paying shots” kind of photographer. If an assignment sounded boring, a lot of times the shot you got from him showed it. He wasn’t fanatically devoted to photography — just when it gave him a chance to shine. And that’s OK, because that was Chris; he was always looking for something new to grab his interest, some unforeseen thing that would give him another chance to learn and to stretch his creative abilities.

More than all these professional reminiscences, I remember Chris as a courageous, unique and generous soul, an “old soul,” full of surprises. To know that he’s gone now is inconceivable.

More on Chris Radok:

"Remembering Chris Radok" by photographer Daniel Coston

The Chris Radok Photo Gallery

And visit the Chris Radok Memorial Page on Facebook.

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