James Katsipis is an acclaimed photographer who was born and raised in Montauk. Known for his stunning ocean photography, he has traveled the world, reaching many distant shores, but has never come across another place like the East End.
Always inspired by where he lives, James got his start as a surf photographer, spending decades perfecting his craft. His work has been featured worldwide in art galleries, books, magazines, and online outlets.
James’ connection with landscapes and nature, especially that of the Hamptons area, is what has influenced his work greatly over the years. His affinity for the ocean can be felt strongly through his breathtaking and expert photographs, and viewers are invited to feel all the emotions captured in the moment.
James spoke more about his start with photography, his early influences, and the self-expression that his art has allowed him.
How did you get your start in photography?
JK: As an avid surfer growing up in Montauk, we all waited by our mailboxes for the new surf magazines to come out. My friends and I would sit and flip the pages of our favorite surfers and look in awe at what they were doing and where they were traveling. We had and still have the most talented surfers. I thought, why couldn’t we get some of our own photos like our idols at the time? So, I pretty much volunteered myself to hone this craft. I used to sit at the shoreline with this old canon with tons of rolls of film and shoot all day long. I didn’t take it too seriously until Eastern Surf Magazine called me up and said they needed some shots of young surfers Leif Engstrom and Quincy Davis. I didn’t exactly know what I was doing but photo editor Jimmy Wilson coached me through it. He told me exactly what to do from settings on my camera to time of day to shoot. I must have sent him 500 photos. Then a couple months later I got the issue, and it had two full pages and a small check in my hand. It felt like a really big accomplishment. And it was! And I had just earned myself a little bit of cash. So, I thought maybe I could make a go of this professionally. And I never looked back since.
What and who were your earliest influences?
JK: Earliest influences were Jimmy Wilson. He would email and talk to me on the phone all the time. He always gave me constructive criticism. And you have to understand he was a very busy guy, and he still took the time out to teach me. Maybe he saw something in me? Or maybe I just bugged him too much haha! Another influence was local legend Walter Iooss. I loved his timing in his sports photography and his lighting for portraits were next level. I had the honor of assisting him a few times so I tried to absorb as much as I could in a little bit of time. His sons Bjorn and Christian helped me out a ton too. Whenever I had a question, they always did their best to steer me in the right direction. I’ve always been so grateful for that.
How would you describe your style?
JK: Moody yet colorful. I’ve always had a dark side to my work. I could always take a beautiful landscape and turn it into exactly how I was feeling that day. I want my viewers to feel how I was feeling. I try to portray as much authentic emotion as possible.
What are your favorite subjects to shoot?
JK: I love seascapes—big waves in great light. I also really love to shoot portraits and beauty.
How do the different subjects, events, and projects you work with differ from one another? Do you have to adapt or use a different approach accordingly?
JK: You always have to adapt to your surroundings. I honestly have to get to where I’m shooting first and feel it out before I even break out my camera. A lot of times I’ll dream about a photo first and kind of like magic I’ll make it come to life.
How were you able to cultivate your own unique style over the years?
JK: Most definitely a natural progression from years as a photographer and experience. Some color tones light just really turn me on. So I’ll go out and look for that when I want to shoot a subject.
Is your art a form of self-expression?
JK: My camera is an extension of myself. Again, I want my viewers to feel all the emotions I was feeling that day when I took the shot. I have to use light and tones to convey a message. Sometimes people won’t like what they feel but nevertheless they are feeling something.
The East End plays a big role in your photography. What do you feel sets the area apart from anywhere else in the world? And what makes it such great subject matter?
JK: I am very well-traveled and for the longest time I would look for the next Montauk somewhere else. But honestly I could not find it anywhere. It’s a really rare and unique place. The landscape and mostly the people set it apart from the rest of the world. We are very blessed to be able to call this place home.
Did growing up in Montauk influence your career path?
JK: The ocean had everything to do with me becoming a photographer. Surfing shaped me as well. I was always surrounded by beauty and I just wanted to catch it and bottle it up and show it to the world.
What’s your favorite part about being located on the East End?
JK: I like how the East End can be desolate in the winter and it just turns on like a light switch in the summer. A lot of people don’t really like the new change and to be honest at first, I didn’t either. But with all this new influx came a lot of great opportunities and I’ve met my partner Coco and some of my best friends who relocated to Montauk. If it wasn’t for the boom, that would have never happened.
What else would you like readers to know about you, your photography, or events?
JK: I just wrapped my first solo art show in Manhattan entitled ‘The End’ produced by Courtney Daniels Consulting. It was a huge success! I’ll be bringing some of those pieces and new ones I’ve just completed back to Montauk this summer to show everyone that could not make it to the city. I have 3 great shows lined up between June and August. It’s going to be a blast, stay tuned!
To learn more about James and his work visit www.jameskatsipis.com and follow him on Instagram at @letstaukgrams.