Local photographer Chris Cook reflects on his ongoing journey to create.
In New York, there are plenty of spaces for photographers and other creatives to manifest their ideas into tangible, real-world results. That said, many of those spaces do not cater to lesser privileged folks or have any soul. They appeal to the commercial masses, rather than the surrounding communities, as do some of the creatives that frequent those spaces.
Enter, Chris Cook: a photographer with a vision. He is a 26-year-old African-American born and raised in the borough of Brooklyn. He’s been shooting for years now, always keeping a camera by his side, and at least one eye open to find a great shot.
In January of this year, Cook became a co-operator at Kube studios in Brooklyn, located right off the Chauncey St. station on the J-line. Access to a space in his hometown places him one step closer to his desire to create a communal space for budding, underprivileged creators.
With the help of local rapper Rain, Cook hosted an opening party on April 20 to officially put his name in the hat. Dope visuals, a consistent DJ, and more than enough weed was the mix for one of the most chill openings he could have asked for.
But it is important to note that the party was only a marker; a point commemorating the next chapter in Cook’s story, and if he follows his recipe, the beginning of many new stories. Hangtime Magazine has the perfect prelude to his story: a conversation with Chris Cook about where he’s been, and what’s going on in his mind.
Hangtime: Tell me about your beginning as a photographer.
Chris Cook: I started photography when I started skating, that was around 19, 20-years-old. I started skating first. Once I started photography, I just never stopped. I always had a camera on me. At that time, I was just capturing my adventures. I’ve seen different parts of New York that people wouldn’t imagine, and I’ve met a lot of interesting people. I still try to do that to this day.
I had a lot of friends that were creatives. They create something, they do something that originates from their mind then goes to paper. I’m really grateful for that, because I feel like if I didn’t meet them, I probably wouldn’t be doing photography at the moment. But who knows. They claim the universe works in mysterious ways, but I feel like it works how it’s supposed to. Things just happen because they’re supposed to happen along a certain timeline. That’s why for me, I try to make everything count.
HT: You said you used to capture your “adventures.” What exactly were you shooting, and what were other people shooting at the time?
CC: At first, it was pretty much anything, anything that happened to attract my eye. As I kept shooting, I started taking things I liked shooting and putting them together. At the time, I wanted to capture what was going on in the area, and people I meet. I feel like once I started getting more into photography, I learned [that] there are people that capture the same thing as I do. The same minds attract each other.
HT: When was the first time you noticed a change in your personal style or approach?
CC: I didn’t really see much of a change until I had more shots to work with. For me, personally, even though I review my work, in my mind I’m saying “I gotta keep going!” I think the first time that I sat back and looked at my work was the first time I had a show. It was a group show, probably at Greenpoint Art Gallery. I won, so I got a second showing afterwards. At that point, I was like, “I might be onto something.” As any artist, it’s good to take a break so you look at what you’re doing. That’s when I sat back and decided to make a few changes.
HT: One major change you made in your life was when you lived in Japan. Tell me about that experience, especially pertaining to your photography.
CC: I left New York when I was around 20 or 21. The reason I chose Japan was because I have friends that moved over there. At the time, I was working at a Japanese art gallery. It all worked into that route. Some people that live in New York have the ability to go out and see new things, but they might be afraid to. Like a self-made prison, and I wanted to break out of that. I’ve known people who have been in New York for years. They haven’t even really traveled, not even out of the state.
I feel like when I went to Japan, it pushed my boundaries. I didn’t know much of the language, I had a camera, so I just shot as much as possible. When I was in New York, I was a little more afraid to talk to people and I felt that I was shooting the same thing over and over. When I went to Japan, I was there for around 2-3 months, it pushed me to shoot differently and speak to more people. I learned a lot from it, It was the culture shock.
I was not prepared at all. I was able to pay for the ticket and one place for a month, but by the time I left New York, I only had $541, and that went away so quickly. But besides the photography, it taught me how to live by myself, how to budget. There were so many times that I zoned out and was like, “What am I gonna do?” Now I look back, and I’m glad I took that chance. I might’ve seen the same thing on TV, but to actually go to this different country, interact with the people, and see it with your eyes, is a totally different story.
HT: Fast-forward to 2019. You have this studio and all the knowledge and experience you’ve gained over the years. Do you ease off the gas pedal, or keep going non-stop?
CC: When I came back, I interned at MILK Studios for a bit. Best-worst job ever. It challenged me to do more. I learned so much about the industry, the business. Now, I want to put everything I learned into this space. As you can see, around the whole space was emptiness. It’s still kind of empty. Slowly but surely, it will start building up. You don’t look at it as an end, you look at it as a journey and just keep going.
HT: Besides your own work, what are you going to do with the space?
CC: I want a space that has a community of creatives who could do photo, or video, or even events. Not where you have to go all the way to Manhattan, or pay so much money for it. I’ve always thought about it, and now that I have this, I can actually do it.
I come from a background where there’s not a lot of opportunity to get into the art world. Rain and I spoke about this, how it’s a shame how in a sense you’re leaving your friends. They see what you’re doing but they’re stuck on that 9-5. Some want to do it, but it depends on the situation, they just can’t at the moment.
I used to live on Ralph Ave. The way I’m looking at this area right now, I feel like it has “potential.” Whether I like it or not, Brooklyn is changing. If it’s going to change so rapidly, at least what I can do is make a space where people can create things and even get paid for it. It’s not only for work, but to learn from one another. All of this took years. If I can save someone a couple of months just to get something accomplished, I’d be happy to.
HT: You have some good ideas for the studio, how about for yourself? What are some personal projects, if any, that you are working on that you can share with us?
CC: I would like to be able to plan out other events, as the weather gets better. For me, a solo exhibition in the summer, to keep it simple.
Be sure to look out for more amazing work from Chris, and keep Kube Studios in mind when looking for a space to bring out the creative in you.