This article first appeared as the cover story in the January 17, 2018 issue of The Independent Newspaper
Self-taught photographer James Katsipis braves the harshest winters in a location iconically praised during the summer months. He is an ambassador for Montauk Hard Label Whiskey and part of the East Coast Vision Team for A Walk on Water, a foundation that offers surf therapy to special needs children.
His newly released book, The Cold, Bitter End, captures Montauk’s desolate beauty. What others view as “The End” is only this man’s beginning.
Seven years ago, a picturesque series emerged using the hashtag #ColdWaterSurferSeries, showcasing winter surfers from Montauk to Ireland. In 2013 the series landed its own exhibition, which was curated by Scott Bluedorn, at Neoteric Fine Art.
Over four years later, originally published in November 2017, The Cold, Bitter End makes an icy splash as Katsipis’s debut in the publishing world. Portraying cold-water surfers and seemingly abandoned storefronts, these images are making their way from Ditch Plains into the homes, and hearts, of eager page turners.
“This project didn’t start out as a book. It was just me and my camera doing what I do,” Katsipis modestly explained. Admiring the likes of Tom Colla and Matt Clark, the whole book was shot with Canons and AquaTech Water Housings, though he’s recently switched over to Sony mirrorless.
“It’s a fine line between passion and obsession. My mind just always seems to be taking pictures even when I don’t have my camera.”
Each picture promises 100-percent originality with a few minor color enhancements. This may come as a surprise upon flipping to the scene of, what appears to be, someone skinny-dipping into the ocean. “That wasn’t even planned. I happened to be in the ‘wrong’ place at the right time,” Katsipis jocularly noted.
All the people seen throughout the book are the boys from Whalebone magazine, whom he’s known for most of his life. While he tended to reach out a day prior to catch them in action, half of the time the snaps are purely spontaneous.
Clad in a winter suit, 5mm gloves, and locking up the camera, Katsipis swims out to sea for the perfect shot. He situates himself right in the impact zone, ready. In a moment, he captures a single image of exemplary complexity. The full face of a wave, from trough to crest, at a stand-still.
A shot of pure precision, it requires a double-take before realizing it’s not the infamous sandy cliffs but rather their aquatic neighbor. Katsipis recalls, “With a keen eye you can catch brief moments of reprieve from all the beatings.”
Katsipis has remained a lifelong resident of the 11954 zip code. Together with his wife, Bella Ornaf, founder of jewelry line FIN Montauk, their dog Samson and little pig, Mako, the four happily call Montauk home — a place of ever-changing seasons.
As locals, they’re the first to admit some things outsiders simply won’t understand. The most underrated thing about Montauk? Winter, clearly. The most overrated? “Range Rovers, sorry Dylan,” Katsipis laughed. And you’re definitely not from the area if “you don’t know what the green bench is.” As for his personal favorite pathway to explore, Camp Hero.
The 146-page “photographic winter journey in Montauk” is currently sold on Amazon with plans to become available to the local East End community soon. Though there are no expectations for a parallel summer photography series, another book in the works is Mermaids of Montauk, to be released at a later time.
Visit http://www.JamesKatsipis.com or follow him on @Letstaukgrams and @mermaidsofmontauk for upcoming signings, in addition to some stellar photography.
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Check back soon for a story on his wife’s endeavor, FIN Montauk