INTERVIEW BY CESARIO “BLOCK” MONTANO
INTRODUCTION BY CESARIO “BLOCK” MONTANO
PHOTOS BY CHUCK KATZ
Some call Chuck Katz talented, some call him a visionary, but the pure appearance of his images say genius! Chuck Katz has been marinating in his skills for some time. A true photographer of contemporary trends, the photos he took of his generation of skateboarding history speak for themselves. He continues to captivate our eyes with his ever evolving style.
“ON THE WEEKENDS, YOU’D HAVE PRETTY MUCH ALL OF THE BEST SKATERS IN THE WORLD SKATING. YOU WOULD HAVE HOSOI, OSTER, DRESSEN, MURRAY… JEF HARTSEL WOULD BE DOWN THERE WITH THE ALVA BOYS. YOU HAD THE WHOLE MIX.”
So, Chuck Katz, you grew up in Malibu, and you live in Venice. You started doing photography seriously at age 16 or 17. Where did that inspiration come from?
The photography inspiration came from my dad. He was a combat photographer in Vietnam. When he got back, he brought home a bunch of cool cameras and that kind of got me interested. I think I was more interested in the cameras than photography at that time.
You’re not warming up your pasta? What are you doing? You can talk and warm up your pasta at the same time. We’re at my house in my kitchen and Chuck actually made up some spaghetti the other night. He’s a really good cook besides being a really good photographer. Only a few people know this because he cooks for the very privileged only. He’s actually having some leftovers right now. He made some great spaghetti and meatballs. Okay. So your father was a combat photographer in Vietnam.
My father was a photographer in Vietnam and he brought home this wind-up Bolex. I didn’t know what it was when I was a kid. All I knew was that it was mechanical and cool and fun to play with. I grew up with cameras in the house because my dad got his start in the camera department, so there has always been a photography influence in the house.
What’d he say? “Come here son and clean the lens.” Or “Here is how you take the lens off.” Did he show you how to break it down or would you just fidget with them yourself and start doing it?
No. I just grabbed it and started doing it. That’s just a gift I have. I’m mechanically inclined, so I could pretty much figure anything out. My dad wasn’t really the teaching type, so there was none of that going on. I think it was just the mechanics of the camera itself that got me interested in what the camera can do.
Did he ever show you his combat photography? Did you get interested in becoming a combat photographer?
Well, he spoke very little of his experience in Vietnam. He wore a Bronze Star. Those are generally given to people who have actually killed people, so he didn’t really talk too much about his experience. He shot photos for the government, so before he left they confiscated all of his film, so there really was no record of him being in Vietnam at the household.
Wow. Was this after Vietnam that he had all his cameras around there or was it later on?
It was when he returned from Vietnam that he had cameras around the house. He brought back the Bolex and during the ‘70s, he used a Rolleiflex to shoot stills.
What was your first camera?
My first camera was a Canon A-1. That’s the first camera that I got that I actually used professionally.
What was your second camera?
My second camera was a F1n that I flew to New York to buy. I never had more than two bodies at the same time.
You’re a First A.C. on films also. How do you like working with those cameras? Is it different than shooting stills?
No. It’s transporting film at 24 fps, instead of taking stills. The theory is the same. Right now, in the still world, we have this battle between using digital cameras and film cameras. People think it’s cheaper to go digital, but, in reality, it’s not. The same thing is going on in the cinematography world, too.
So your father was a film producer. He produced such films as Titanic. He has done Reindeer Games and The Great Race. How did you get into working on films and what films have you worked on?
Well, I started out as a camera technician.
What year was that?
That was ‘95 or ‘96. Since then I’ve worked on Conspiracy Theory, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Green Mile, Triple XXX… I’ve probably done 50 films to date. I have also worked on TV shows like CSI New York and Lie To Me.
Didn’t you shoot a Kid Frost video and a B-Real video?
[Laughs] Yeah. That was fun.
You’ve done some collaborating on stuff, too.
I shot a pilot for the Speed Channel about racing, which was super fun.
You should show some of the stills from the films in your interview. Show some of the ones you have from Con-Air. All of that stuff is dope. No one else can get them.
I think I might.
Let’s go back in time again. What was your first experience in doing still photography? What were you doing? Obviously, you didn’t start doing films when you were sixteen. After you got an A-1, what did you start shooting? Did you go outside and shoot nature shots?
No. At that time, I was hanging out with all of my punk rock friends, so I would just shoot pictures of them or pictures of all of us hanging out in the backyard.
[Laughs] So it’s not true that you were up in Malibu shooting flowers on the prairie and stuff?
[Laughs] No. That is a story that has been circulating for a while now, but I can tell you it is not true. There were no roses at my house growing up.
So you weren’t up there shooting little flowers and trees?
No. I was trying to shoot these two owls one night until they attacked me.
[Laughs] So you grew up in Malibu. How long have you lived in Venice?
I’ve lived in Venice since I was 18.
Who were some of the guys you grew up with down here?
Well, I left Malibu at age 16 and moved to Santa Monica. I lived with a group of guys called S.M. Punx. We would actually break into campers to sleep in them. There was a place across the street from the Santa Monica Skatepark where they used to store campers. We used to break in and sleep in there. There was a shower in there and a refrigerator. At that time, I was hanging out with Junior, Pat Baries, Steve Bordan, The Adrian Brothers, James Smith, and my younger brother David. We were pretty much all out of a home, so we all hung out and kind of took care of each other.
What happened to your dad? Why did you split the house so early?
My parents split up and they each went their own way.
So there was mayhem at the house. You just ditched the chaos?
Here’s how the story goes. I’d gotten home from school one day and there was a note on the door. My dad had moved to Arizona to work on a film and my mom had moved to Carmel. I got home from school one day and everybody was gone. My brother and I stayed at the house for about a month and then, when we couldn’t stay there anymore, we collected our belongings and moved to Santa Monica.
So they were like, “We are out. Choose who you want to roll with?”
Pretty much. It was like, “You’re on your own now.”
That made you grow up pretty fast, huh?
It makes you who you are.
Yes. It made me who I am.