Chris Radok was murdered at age 55, on Monday, Jan. 10. From 1994 to 2006, Chris had worked for Creative Loafing, mostly as photographer and photo editor, both freelance and full-time. The last time I worked with him was about a year ago, when we co-operated on a cover-story photo essay about the Urban Ministry Center. Police say Chris was killed after he came home from work and caught a burglar in the act. I will leave further details to others, as this column is about Chris Radok, not his killer.
When Chris began working as a distributor for CL in '94, I was editor of the paper and started to notice a tall, determined-looking man around the office once or twice a week. He had a somewhat-odd-but-eager, intelligent air about him whenever I saw him talking to Don Swan, our resident photographer/distribution manager at the time. Soon, Chris, or "Kodar," as Swan renamed him, began taking occasional photos for us. When Don quit, Chris wanted to take his place as the paper's go-to shooter, and I readily agreed. It's a terrible irony that Don also died at too young an age, just a couple or so years later.
Chris was an unusual guy, particularly for a buttoned-down city like Charlotte. He was what the term "alternative" is supposed to mean — independent, out of the mainstream, and unwilling to be anyone but himself. As genuine as a gold dollar, he was often hilariously funny, and just as often grumpy and sharp-tongued. He embodied a natural, easy brand of non-conformity that came to define him — and won him what I always referred to as his "growing following" at the paper and among readers. 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, he added, smiling, "I thought it was going to be something about Radok." He wasn't kidding, and he wasn't being mean. Chris knew he was different, and that's what his friends and many of his acquaintances liked about him. It's also what some people, mostly corporate dullards, didn't like about him, but, what can I say, they were wrong.
Creativity of many sorts welled up in Chris at all hours of the day, and he nurtured an eclectic list of "interests" a mile long. He was a fine car mechanic, an avid "urban mountain cyclist," a pretty good amateur IT guy when you needed it, an adept 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 and hard-edged metal, skateboarder culture, blonde strippers, and Guillermo del Toro films. He often shot rock shows for bands, for which he became as known around the city as for his CL work. For a while, he even wound up as part of musician 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, the experimental pilots of the 1950s, Ovaltine, raunchy jokes, Australian bugs, you name it.
As CL's photographer, Chris had a knack for thinking up creative images to accompany stories; when he had to come up with a cover shot, he often poured all his energy into finding the right setting, the right models, lighting, everything. His fondness for using a fish-eye lens led me to praise him for many of his shots, and argue with him about others. You see, Chris 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. 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 and still full of promise. The fact that he is gone now is still just inconceivable.