Shock and Awe


(All photos via Joe Kates)

Shock and Awe!!!!!!!!!

I am in total shock having received the news of the loss of my good friend and “brother” Mark Hrutkay. At the same time I am in TOTAL AWE of this man. I say good friend, but that’s not even close to the way I felt about him. Numerous times he called me his brother, and treated me likewise.

I met Mark at the Reno Air Races about twelve years ago. It’s a funny story as I recall. There I was walking around with my Canon 10d and my 75-300 kit lens. Many of you who have photographed at Reno know of a special media platform just down from the media center. Look to the right and there’s where you see aircraft coming off of pylon 8, Look to the left, and one sees the grandstands and the home pylon. So, I make my way up to the media platform (because I had media credentials for one of my first times at Reno). There is where I come across what I call the Large Lens Mafia, when in all reality this is where the professionals shoot from with their multi-thousand dollar cameras and lenses. I walk up find a opening next to a very big man with an amazing 600mm lens on a Wimberly mount, backed up by a camera body that was worth more than my car. As sure as I put my camera to my face I hear of the man say “you might not want to stand so close as that’s in my panning area”. But I recall that he said it with a smirk on his face.

Initially I stood my ground and we continue to shoot; I did back off a little to give him respect. Sure enough he pans left runs right into my right shoulder, I moved a little bit further away and he said that that looked to be about right. He said “I don’t think I’ve ever met you before” and I said with my new media credentials thinking I was someone special “well, I’m Joe Kates of”. He stopped what he was doing, removed his sunglasses, and looked at me. “Oh my God, I’ve heard of you!” I fell right into his response, and was shocked that he knew of me. No sooner did I feel that feeling, he looks at me and says “I’m only kidding I don’t know who the hell you are”.

He then introduced himself and gave me his card. I’ll never forget that card. It had a P-51 Mustang on the front and on the back it had the Grim Reaper and said “Fly safe or meet me”. I thought that was just hilarious and we started to talk. This was around 10 o’clock in the morning and between races we both migrated back to the media center where we continue to talk shop. He was telling me of all the events he’d covered and all the history of Reno that I ever wanted to know. We talked about everything from personal family topics to aircraft and more – and I had only met him a few hours earlier. As we continued to take photos and walk around the airplane pits the rest of the day together, and I was amazed and in awe, of his vast knowledge all the people that knew him at Reno. He showed me a lot of his photography techniques too.

Ultimately he said that he wanted to go home early, get to the hotel, get dinner and download his photos. He gave me his number and told me to call him tomorrow and we could continue to talk and hang out. At this point I felt as I’ve known him for years. The next day I got out there before any of the qualifying and I give him a call. He said he was out at the field already. He told meet him at the Media parking lot. So I went over to where he had to park his minivan, he shook my hand and said good morning.

He then proceeded to tell me how he could up my game at Reno, and asked if I was going to be able to hang out with him for the day. I said yes, and the next thing he did was to open the back hatch on the minivan to expose two or three large pelican cases. He opened one of them and pulled out a camera body I don’t recall what model it was but it was a MAJOR step up from my 10d camera kit.

He asked me for a CF card, put it in my camera and then opened up a very large black bag and pulled out a 300mm 2.8 L glass lens. He then gave me a 24-104 L for my 10d.Once I picked my chin up off the floor because I’d never even touched a lens like that, we went out and spent the rest of that afternoon shooting some of the best pictures I’ve ever taken at Reno. He continued telling me speed settings and different camera settings to capture the best images. It’s amazing how different camera gear can change your whole outlook your attitude and the way people treat you. Might sound crazy but isn’t it true?

By the end of that afternoon he had asked me about Photorecon and if I would like him to contributing some photos and content. I said I would be honored to have him come on board and give me content. This started a friendship that grew over the years; he continued to send some of the most amazing photos and historical content, becoming a very respected contributor on the site.

When I use the term brother, here’s an example… I would call Mark from time to time, and he would call me too – and we would talk about many things other than photography. He actually was like an older brother to me – a mentor – someone I looked up to he seemed to have the right answer whether I liked it or not. I’ll never forget that one time I was looking to buy a 70-200 L lens. I had mentioned it to him, and asked him which one I should look for. He said hold off, I’ve got one for sale. I said great, what do you want for it? He told me a price that was less than half what the retail value was at that time.

People that know me know I’m not actually nice to my glass, I’m a bit rough on it. One time at Chino I was changing lenses and I literally dropped my 24 -105mm, shattering the front element. Mark saw this and said “I’ll take it back with me and I’ll mail it in to CPS, because they’ll fix it under my cost… you just pay the bill, but I’ll save you a lot of money” I can’t recall how many times he did things like that for me. As our friendship grew, we got to talk about even more things, and I soon knew about Mark‘s health issues. In fact, we both knew a lot of close personal things about each other.

This is where it gets to be truly amazing. Once he called me on the phone on my birthday, and in an elevated tone says “Man you don’t ever check your Facebook messenger do you?” I responded that no, I didn’t. “Sorry” he said, “go have a look at it, you might be impressed”. I open my Facebook messenger and I see Mark in a photo holding a 300 2.8L glass lens over a shipping box. The text reads “Happy birthday my good friend and brother, enjoy, because these are the good old days”. I didn’t know what to say, but I did respond to him and said “Mark you don’t have to do that, I consider it on loan. If you ever need it back I’ll send it back”. He responded to me “Absolutely not, it’s your baby now, use it in good health”.

I still to this day can’t believe that, but he one upped that one too. One year at Chino my whole crew came down. A few guys need to borrow a cameras so I lent out my two cameras to them and was standing there with my point and shoot camera. Mark (he was in the VIP area) came to the media pit and asked me where my camera was. I said I only have two bodies and I lent them to the guys so they can run around. He walks over to his camera bag, which was in his little cart that he always had with him. He handed me a Canon 1DS Mark4 and says to have fun. Again I probably got some of the best photos I’ve ever taken at Chino, considering I use all semi pro bodies. At the end of the day I made contact with Mark and proceeded to put that camera back in his bag.

He looked at me and said “What are you doing?” I said that I was “Putting your camera back in your bag, I’m very grateful for letting me use it and it’s not broken”. To this he responded: “why are you putting YOUR camera in my bag? I again suffered an “Oh my God moment”, as did the rest of the guys on my crew. I said “Come on man, you don’t have to do that” and again he responded with his famous saying “These are the good old days, enjoy the camera”. To which I responded again that it was only on loan, and if he ever need it back I’ll be happy to ship it to him, to which he chuckled and walked away.

Mark was a founding member of Photorecon; from the earliest days his guidance and opinions helped to shape the site as you see it today. Always willing to talk about how we could run more efficiently, gain more content, and keep ourselves in legal check, his contributions to our sites were and still are invaluable.  He helped to recruit some of our great contributors too, including some whom I never would have thought would consider working with us. A few moments with Mark, and they were asking me where to send the photos and article! We’ll miss his personality and his art of conversation so much…

These memories which I jotted down here are only a portion of the things that he’s done for me, the websites, and for all of my friends and colleagues. He was a legal advisor to my sites Pro bono, I can’t put into words how much Mark has meant to me and what he has done for me. So yes, I continue to be in Shock and Awe of this very successful, very affluent and, unlike most people that have abundance in their life, very generous man. More than just using the equipment and having access to all that material stuff. I’m going to truly miss this man, as a mentor, brother and friend.

I have made a promise to myself that when I go to airshows and see people starting out like I once had, I will always treat them as Mark treated me. I will lend out a lens and camera body as he did, because it really does build great friendships… and it is a very good feeling to give back as Mark has taught me by his examples.

I can say this Mark, I love you like a brother, you truly are my brother from another. Blue Skies and Tailwinds for all eternity. Fly High. You will always be a part of this team.

Here is a video done by Mark’s son. It’s a heartfelt message and a PSA…

Joe Kates

Joe Kates is the founder of Photorecon. Joe has been into aviation since he was a child and has a incredible amount of knowledge to do with planes or aviation in general. Today Joe is the owner and Managing Editor of Photorecon.

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