To browse the work of James Katsipis on Instagram is to be enveloped in the waves of Montauk, a beach town that takes on a whole new cult of personality through his instinctive photography and loving documentation. An intrepid spirit first, with both photographer and surfer competing for the rightful second title, James portrays his adventurous ocean life through an artful lense and his trademark joie de vivre.
We’ve spent quite a bit of time scrolling through his multiple projects and fine art endeavors wondering how one can balance a daredevil spirit with such potent productivity. To see what makes it all tick, we asked him some questions to zero in on his photography skills, Montauk mastery, and perhaps most pertinently, what it’s like to raise Mako, his adorable pet mini pig.
Eir: What do you love most about being a photographer that people might not know?
JK: I love all the people I've met and friends I've made along the way in my work and travels. That’s what I always remember the most after a surf trip.
Where’s your favorite place on Earth? And why?
Montauk. It's my home, and no matter where I go in the world or how beautiful the place may be, I always yearn to come home.
What’s a situation or activity that brings you pure joy?
I love getting tubed! Whether it be on my surfboard alone or sitting inside a big barrel with my camera and maybe another surfer/friend.
What's your most favorite thing about yourself?
My sense of humor! I love to laugh. I get it from my father. Papa Gus is hilarious. Best story teller out there.
Do you ever think about what you would want to do if you weren’t a photographer?
I wanted to make commercials, like come up with ideas for them. Me and my cousin used to sit around and come up with all these funny ideas. We wanted to write comedies, so a writer I suppose.
Can you describe a challenge you overcame or a goal you finally reached with your photography?
Well, I’ve always had a real competitive side. But with myself. And I learned to be ok with the work I’m doing in the moment. I was really pushing myself hard for many years. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you can’t enjoy the accomplishments you made, what’s it all for? I had to learn to not beat myself up so much. And work got easier and came more naturally when I wasn’t trying to force it so much.
When’s the last time you were pleasantly surprised?
I guess it would be when I placed in this year's NYSea/Cliff Bar, Cold Shot Challenge. There were so many amazing submissions this winter from all over the east coast. I was happy to walk with third in a category.
For those just getting started as photographers, what resources or role models would you suggest?
Everything! Can’t stress that enough. Ask a million questions. Don’t be shy. I had a lot of older more seasoned photogs helping me along the way. I was always bugging them. I owe them a lot.
When you’ve had a particularly long day. How do you unwind?
Summer time wind down is to go home, start to uploading the day's shots on my computer, throw on some oldies and start my dinner, feed my piggy Mako and give him some belly rubs, and maybe get a fire going on my patio and relax on my couches out there. That’s been my go to this year at least. Oh and shower at some point, haha.
Are you a morning person, or a night person? Does productivity come easily to you?
That honestly changes. I go through phases. I’ll go months being a night owl and sleeping in (mostly winter). But summer is so nice here, so I like to get a jump on the day. I definitely feel I get more work done at night. Late night. After the world goes to sleep and I can concentrate without distractions.
It’s been a strange year, to say the least...any goals for the remainder of 2020?
Actually I’ve been working on my fine art and have some new art projects I’m getting ready to start on. Been looking and talking with some galleries and working on having a show in NYC this year.
Being born and raised in Montauk, you often feature the city and its surf culture as a central character in your work – your documentation of vintage Montauk Memorabilia in particular is a beautiful example of hometown pride. Can you remember the last time you came across something that felt like a “new discovery” in Montauk?
Honestly I know this town like the back of my hand. I can drive around blindfolded. When we were kids we were goonies out here. We didn’t leave a stone unturned. I’ve even been all over Camp Hero before they sealed it all off from the public. Spent a Christmas there once. Honestly a new discovery of Montauk for me is finding out as much as I can about the old vintage Montauk. That’s what makes my eyes light up. When I find historical photos or items I go crazy. That’s what makes me tick now.
Could you ever imagine yourself living anywhere else? And if you had to, where would you go?
I’ve searched all over. The only places I've ALMOST felt at home were a couple small towns in NorCal. My family is from Santorini Greece and I split my summers growing up there and in Montauk. But one major problem... no waves really. Once in a while, but not like here. I guess if I absolutely had to move I'd either go to Costa Rica or Peru. I love both. But I know I would miss home.
We are totally in love with Mako, your pet pig. Any advice for aspiring pig parents? Any reason you chose a pig (and we’re so glad you did) instead of a different pet?
Mako is my baby. I love him so much. Pigs are extremely smart, clean, loving, and loyal, but can be spiteful and need all your attention. If they don’t like something you did you will absolutely know about it. They have the mental capacity of a 4 year old human, and the temperament of one too, at times.
So Mako actually hails from New Jersey. I got him when he was only 3 weeks old. The crew from Save The Waves Film Fest were camped out in my driveway at the time. I’ll never forget it. It was wild when he showed up and was given to me. Everyone was tripping over him, haha! So I got a piggy because I have a husky already and I've had cats, iguanas, ferrets, birds, and a goldfish in the past, so why not a pet pig?! I know it’s not very conventional but I’m not conventional. In any way. He’s honestly such a blessing and I’m obsessed with him. I’m so glad I got him.
James with Mako, his adorable pet pig