Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Punk photographer Bob Kondrak passes away

This is a photo of Bob Kondrak with Nobunny from Nobunny's MySpace page.

In the mid-'90s right when my old zine 10 Things was in it's hey day, I was contacted by a local guy named Bob Kondrak about running some of his photos in the zine. He loved garage rock and was taking pictures at a lot of the shows I was going to, although I had never met him. So we met up for beers and for Bob to give me some photos and I was surprised to find a big, gray haired, bearded dude that was probably already in his mid-fifties. As it turned out, Bob told me he had been working in a reggae store in the '70s when punk broke and he totally got into it (his reggae vinyl collection is supposed to be 7,000 records strong). He'd been shooting punk bands since around 1978 and had piles of photos beyond the garage punk stuff he was just handing me. At the time he was a bit of a loaner, working as a night janitor at the University of Washington, going to punk and garage shows, and shooting a lot of photos. He didn't seem to have any close friends, but told me about his son, Kuri, who was a DJ or something and was into electronic music, "Totally the opposite of the music his old man likes," he said. I had a feeling at the time he was first giving me photos to publish that he'd never really shared his band photography with anyone. He certainly wasn't published anywhere and hadn't yet made a name for himself even in punk circles. He was just finally in his 50s sharing what was already his life's work to the world for the first time.

Over the years Bob began writing for 10 Things too, covering mostly the garage punk scene in his column "Blow it out your ass!" He also began contributing to Horizontal Action and a few other zines, as well as posting to many of the online forums for fans of garage punk. Bob was never a classy guy, he rubbed a few people the wrong way with some creepy comments and a tendency to shoot a lot of girls in garage bands, he was definitely a fan of the boobs. And heck, the last time I saw him at a show at Funhouse a few months ago, he called my wife a MILF. But that was part of his character, it went along with a great sense of humor, excellent stories about old punk shows, and his great live band photography.

I didn't talk to Bob all that often in recent years. Maybe I ran into him at a show at Funhouse, The Monkey or The Sunset a couple times a year. More recently we had been exchanging some emails after I asked if I could scan and run some of his old photos here on the blog. And I was really trying to get him to sell me some larger prints of my few favorite photos of his too, my last email from him said, "I have been kinda lazy lately in the darkroom, but I'll make a note on my "do" list for the two you mention below. I'll let you know when those are ready and we can meet and discuss price." I never heard back from him.

I heard this morning that Bob Kondrak passed away on Friday after a long struggle with a rare blood disease. I didn't even know he was sick, he said nothing to me about it the last few times I saw him. So it's completely out of the blue that Kondrak has passed away and I'm feeling a little numb about it right now. I'm sure someone out there can write a better obituary, this is more just about my memories of Bob. While Bob Kondrak isn't a household name even in the local punk community, he was fairly legendary in the underground garage punk scene for years. Cheers old creepy man! You were a loyal contributor to 10 Things over the years, were damn funny, and took some wonderful photos that I really hope more of can surface and be published.

Here are a few of my favorite Bob Kondrak photos I ran in 10 Things:

This is a fantastic picture of The Clash in their heyday, Bob shot it at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. I tracked down the show date, October 15th, 1979, I would have loved to see The Clash back then!

This is a classic Kondrak garage girl shot. It's Margaret from the Demolition Doll Rods, from 1998.

This final photo below is my favorite Bob Kondrak photo, I love everything about it. It was shot probably in early 1979 ("Armed Forces" came out January 5th, 1979). I love everything from the DIY cut-up and drawn on punk shirt, the spiky hair, the curious but cynical look, the androgyny (is it a girl or a boy?)... to music posters on the wall, like the Elvis Costello poster with a Lewd poster slapped on top of it. It's almost like Bob captured a moment of calm, surrounded by punk chaos, probably back stage at some club or in the corner of the living room of an early punk house. He perfectly captured a moment in time, like all great photographers seem able to do.

This photo, more than any other, makes me wonder how many other cool photos that capture this era are out there lurking in people's photo albums that really ought to be scanned in and shared. Heck, it makes me wonder how many other great photos Bob Kondrak shot that have yet to be shared with the world. Hopefully his son or a friend has access to his negatives and prints and can make something happen with them. Bob's legacy needs to live on through his photography.


timothy radar said...

I will always remember Bob as a funny, but slightly creepy, old dude that kind of burst onto the scene in the mid-nineties. I find it odd that I was thinking what happened to that guy a few days ago. Sorry to see he has passed.

Greg L said...

Bob was one of my closest friends -- an all-around incredible person, and a talented photographer. He will be missed.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know if there will be a service?

Dan 10Things said...

The funeral service will be on December 12th. I'm checking with Bob's son to make sure it's cool for people to show up, if so, I'll post all the info.

Pocomania said...

r.i.p. tet68!

Brother James said...

This is pretty sad news for me. Bob (I always called him Jim for some reason) was a big fan of my bands and supported the garage scene better than most 25 year olds. We chatted each other up all the time at the gigs. I hope to be as hip to killer rock 'n' roll when I'm in my mid-50's and not give a rat's ass how young everybody else is around me! RIP Bob.

BIGROCCO said...

Thank you for sharing this. His photos had a power that captured something very special to all of us who were paying attention. Glad to see this online in China. -BIGROCCO

Unknown said...

This is tremendously sad news; I hadn't seen Bob much over the last couple of years; I think I last ran into him about a year ago at the funhouse. While I can definitely remember Bob pissing off and offending various girlfriends and other female friends of mine with suggestive or lewd comments I would never have considered him "creepy"...rude, yes. Sexist, definitely. But it always seemed to me that he was trying to get a rise out of folks with that stuff, being deliberately provocative. But he was a sweet, stand up guy with an unbelievable love for the purest rock'n'roll. He was funny, in my experience hje was kind and generous. I had some amazingly great adventures with Bob...smoking weed with him and Monsieur Jeffrey Evans in the back of '68 Comeback's van outside of Satyricon in Portland...waiting in line and Garageshock...and how many goddamn shows at Gibson's? Bob's apartment above Tweedy & Pop's True Value Hardware in Wallingford was a much more interesting museum to rock'n'roll than the Stupid EMP. My condolences to his son and family. My condolences to everybody.