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INTERVIEW: Noted Montauk-Based Photographer James Katsipis Shares His Influences, Why He Loves His Hometown, Most Memorable Shots, And More

T.J. Clemente

The Duryea's dock pre-renovation. (Photo: James Katsipis)

James Katsipis is a seasoned, talented Montauk photographer. Fifteen years ago, Katsipis was regularly shooting covers for the Montauk Pioneer, along with other award-winning feats. Katsipis was born and raised in Montauk. He was kind enough to grant Hamptons.com a glimpse into his thinking and into his perceptions about how Montauk was and is. When asked why he still lives in Montauk, he explained, "I live here in Montauk because there is no other place like it on earth - and I've looked!"

Over the last two decades, there have been many changes in photography. Once it was only film, now it's all but purely digital. So, when Katsipis was asked what his favorite medium is now for his photography, and what was his first real camera, along with when he started photographing, he said, "That's kind of a tough one, actually. At the moment, I've been shooting 35mm film on an old point and shoot Olympus. Kind of going back to my roots of film. But normally I shoot with a Sony Alpha. I love the low light capabilities. My first camera was the one the high school gave me that I broke. I believe it was an old 35mm Nikon."

Photographer James Katsipis. (Courtesy Photo)

Part of Katsipis' portfolio of great award-winning shots is his surfing photos. He is an avid surfer and that gives him an advantage. Therefore, when he was asked for a tip or two on taking live surfing photos, he shared, "If you are standing/sitting in one place the whole time you are doing it wrong."

He started taking photos while attending East Hampton High School. About the influences and mentors he's had over the years, he explained, "I've definitely gathered knowledge from all over. My hero growing up was Walter Iooss. He's a master of light. Love his sports photography, but his portraits are amazing as well. I've had the privilege of watching him work a few times."

Over the years, websites have become an important part of a photographer's tool in marketing their art. When asked about the development of his website and how it affected the growth of his professional situation, he said, "Well, the website is an ever-evolving thing. I'm always updating it with the times. It makes me think of my first site Montaukviewfinders.com - and I have to laugh. I made it with my buddy Geo. When you opened it up, Moby started playing. We have come a long way since that. Professionally, I have tried different photography hats on over the years. Professional surfing, adventure, travel, events, fashion, archival, and weddings. Now I'm just focused on my fine art at the moment. I love it. It gives me a sense of freedom to create more and really focus. Plus, I hate deadlines, so it works out!"

Next, the conversation turned to his hometown, Montauk. Since Montauk is always changing, Katsipis was asked what are two photos that he has taken over the years that truly best illustrates the biggest changes one can see via imagery. He stated, "I have one photo that can sum that all up. Duryea's dock. One November day I went there to watch a sunset and clear my head. I chased all these seagulls, they flew up into the sunlight and I'll remember it like it happened an hour ago. I have had a lifelong relationship with Duryea's dock. I have photographed it every which way. All season. Sunset, night sky, rain, snowstorms, iced over. It's my happy place, no matter what. It also was the original fishing dock of Montauk. It was beaten down, broken, falling apart and tattered, and it was the most beautiful dock I ever saw. Since the restaurant has changed hands, it has been updated. No character. I mean it's a lovely dock, but it's just too nice for my taste. I liked the broken boards. "

A photo from the Mermaids of Montauk series. (Photo: James Katsipis)

When the conversation turned back to photography, the importance of light and the significance of the light of the East End led to the question of why is the natural light of the East End magic for taking photos? He replied, "I have been all over the world and Montauk light is by far my favorite. I don't know, it just excites me. Maybe we have more vitamin D out here!?" he joked.

Lastly, when asked to choose the best photograph he has ever taken and the best one he has ever seen? He laughed and said, "Come on! I've shot millions of photos. It would be like trying to pick my favorite child. I think it's a toss-up between three. The one of Amanda Beckwith's face melting into the sound for my Mermaids of Montauk series, Duryea's dock with all the seagulls flying into the sunset, and one of my friends walking in a giant snow drift in their wetsuit and boards to go surfing at Turtle Cove during winter storm Juno."

For more information about James Katsipis, visit www.jameskatsipis.com.

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