Image

Gravity

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In the world of photography, distraction is an unkind word. It’s compositional enemy No. 1, the stuff that gets into the frame and competes with the subject: clashing colors, stray objects …. Think wedding photo with a tree limb protruding from the bride’s head.

But before the shutter falls, distraction can be a godsend.

I am easily distracted, and sometimes it’s a blessing. Sometimes the best shot of the day is born in the light that flickers at the corner of my eye or the movement in a far reach of my peripheral vision, a force tugging me away from the gravity of what is supposed to be the subject.

One day recently I was following the action of a girls’ lacrosse game at Wheeler Farm, focused on the far end of the field, when a group of long jumpers pulled my attention away from the game. One by one, they soared across a canvas, the background being the white wall of an equipment shed. And even that distraction had distractions — other track athletes running through the scene and, of course, the lacrosse teams doing battle, the thing that was supposed to be my subject.

For the next few minutes I photographed the game but kept an eye on the long jumpers tracing dark arcs against the brilliant shed. At the halftime horn, the lacrosse players headed for the sidelines, and the distraction became the subject. Above, Wheeler School’s Lucas Kranseler, fighting gravity, every bit of him reaching for horizontal distance, makes his day’s final descent to Earth.

copyright 2017 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

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A Man for All Seasons

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The stars were the hardest part, he tells me, showing off the American flag he has painted on the side of a haphazard-looking shed, an agglomeration of boards, lattice and scrap plywood that sits smack in the middle of the wide, muddy space. When stencils failed him in his quest to neatly frame the nation’s firmament, he says, he used a cookie cutter to “get ’em right.”

Surprisingly, the “water shed” is as solid as the man showing me around his community garden plot at Walker Farm. He is P.J. Russell, and he resides in Providence, but it’s out here that he really seems to live. On the day I visit, the 70-year-old is in his element, walking straight and tall and projecting like a character in a Turner Classic Movie.

Russ, as he likes to be called, talks about working the soil, growing peas, tomatoes, garlic, watermelons and other things. Rotating his crops so he doesn’t exhaust the soil. Relishing the hard work he’s plowed into this 83-by-42-foot plot for a decade now.

We take the stairs to the “upper floor,” a reinforced plywood roof with gutters to channel precipitation down into industrial-size blue plastic barrels. In this offseason, if you could call it that, Russ has already collected about 200 gallons of snowmelt and spring rain to use during summer dry spells.

From the top of the shed we can see Hundred Acre Cove and its marshes. In the summer, he sees everything — sailboats, osprey and the rising green of the 20 or so plots of his Walker Farm neighbors. “I know everybody — ‘Hey you want a hamburg? You want a hot dog?’” he half-pantomimes. It is a very social place.

We head back down, past the protective boundaries of his kingdom lying in wait, rolls of wire fencing that he’ll install to keep out crop-stealing pests, some on four legs and some on two.

Russ is grinning as he picks up his saw and starts through a board. “Work” isn’t a word he uses for his labors out here in the place where life comes out of the ground and the stars shine even on the brightest days.

“Eat, play, garden, exercise,” he says. “The outside — tons of stuff to do.”

copyright 2017  Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Putting It All Together

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‘Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.’

— J.M. Barrie, author of ‘Peter Pan’

Standing on a ladder inside the Strand building in downtown Providence, Joseph Bautista was framed inside a small opening in a very big brick wall as he worked to replace a window on the building’s Mathewson Street side. I didn’t get more than his name, didn’t ask if he was a window guy, a builder or a carpenter specializing in the installation of windows.

But this much I could see: He labored on a ladder, Sisyphus with a saw, scaling the rungs again and again to fit a brand-new window into the 102-year-old wall. He sized and fit each board, nailed it in place and headed back down for another piece until the window was more than just panes. And then on to the next.

He reminded me of my late friend and neighbor Bob, a regular guy who learned a trade young and worked hard at mastering it. Bob knew floors like nobody I’ve known, and he was insanely good at installing and fixing them, mostly the industrial kind — carpet, wood, tile, vinyl — in places as big as malls and as small as my kitchen. To me, Bob was the Tom Brady of the conjured world we walk on, a master of all that is uniformly and beautifully flat.

Last year Brady signed a two-year contract for $41 million.

There’s no Super Bowl in the trades. Guys like Joe or Bob never make millions even if they’re the very best at window or floor installation. Their victories are quiet and often unseen. But they are victories still, everyday triumphs of astute perception, seasoned analysis and measured response.

Their fields are altogether different, and every Tom, Bob and Joe has his own game, his own playbook. But each knows both the joy of a play well executed and the pain of a botch. Maybe that’s why so many will be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night. Maybe, beneath the height of the stakes and the froth of the spectacle, what they really hope to see is what they pursue at work every day: a job consummately well done.

copyright 2017  Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

HEART IN THE GAME

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Let’s face it, you see a guy like Willie Barr walk into a church on a Sunday in a dress sports coat of red, white and blue, festooned with the name of his favorite football team, and you might take notice. You might assume that Willie is an over-the-top sports fan: one of those guys in the stands on TV that are always pulling off their shirts in frigid weather to display the team logo painted on their belly, complementing their two-toned face as it peeks out from a giant inflatable helmet, but that’s just not Willie Barr’s style. For the 68-year-old Barr, a deacon at St. James Baptist Church in Woonsocket, fandom is about friendships, not fanatics.

Willie followed the Minnesota Vikings in his younger days but was introduced to Patriots football by his best friend, Steve Frechette, and his interest grew when their favorite player, Vikings running back Chuck Foreman, was traded to New England. The two men bought their first season tickets in 1977 and bonded as they watched years of games together on the aluminum bleacher seats at the old Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro. Steve died a few years ago, but the Patriots games keep his memory going.

While Willie admits that not every one in church will be happy when he wears his Patriots sport coat to church this Sunday (the same day the Pats take on the Steelers for the AFC title), he won’t mind the glares because he says there are a lot of Steelers fans at St. James, and others who just don’t like the Pats’ success. That’s probably why this Sunday he’ll accessorize with the jacket’s matching pants, tie and hat.

copyright 2017  Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Shadow of a doubt

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I had been waiting at the Garrahy Judicial Complex for an afternoon arraignment in connection with a Pawtucket murder when I saw this scene through the fourth-floor window. Walking below across the bricked courtyard, people moved in and out of the building, their shadows elongated by the low, late-day sun, the color of the day bleached to a monochromatic hue.

The fourth floor is not a happy place. This is where lives change, where arraignments are done for drug cases, assaults, robberies, civil unrest and murder. It is a purgatory where the accused, shadowed by their actions, wait for their deeds or cause to be judged as mistake, mischief or malevolence.

Where families, friends and lovers float helplessly outside courtrooms under a shadow of uncertainty and concern, knowing that many, be they righteous or rogue, will enter the labyrinthian judicial system never to find their way to the light again.

copyright 2016 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Two Winners

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“Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.”
— Bill Watterson (creator of “Calvin and Hobbes”)

Two years ago, when he was in first grade, Gus Kletzien of Providence joined his classmates from the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School to compete in a CVS Health Downtown Youth Race. His mom, Ilse, walked alongside, keeping a close eye on her son but trying not to interfere.

Gus, who uses a walker, was the last participant to cross the finish line. But, his mom says, his first words to her were, “I won.”

This year, Gus wanted to run the boys 400-meter race, but in the interest of safety his parents couldn’t let him join his classmates on the starting line. He would instead take part in the shorter, less chaotic “All Kids Can” 200-meter inspirational run/walk.

As he reached the starting line with his walker, Gus found himself surrounded by about 10 of his school friends and their siblings.

With each step, moving slowly up the Francis Street course with him, they chanted an encouraging, “Go, Gus! Go Gus!”

Gus was about halfway to the finish line when he began to tire. At his side from the start was his best friend and classmate, Brandon Ballou.

Brandon had skipped his own race to run with Gus. On cue, Brandon took up a position behind the walker, and Gus got on. The two BFFs, powered by Brandon’s legs and an abundance of boy spirit, zoomed through the remainder of the course, over the finish line and into the hearts of all watching.

“That’s the fastest I have ever pushed you,” Brandon told Gus. And as they gathered with their buddies for a post-race picture, it was clear that, once again, Gus had won.

copyright 2016 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Spin Cycle

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I home in on her giggles like I’m laser-guided. I am looking for a quick standalone photo between assignments and find myself in familiar territory: Park, playground, kids, family, fun. This time, I encounter Adrianna Phann and her family spinning merrily around on a ring-shaped playground ride. They get the Hollywood treatment. Rework a stock scenario, insert a new cast and add special effects to make this time, this playground, this group of kids, a better photo.

I love Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray cult-classic movie about a TV weatherman trapped reliving Feb. 2 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Murray’s character, Phil Connors, awakens to the same day again and again. Sometimes it’s hard to be a photojournalist and not feel like Phil Connors. We dwell in deja vu, covering the same festivals, protests, parades and press conferences week after week, year after year. An event unique in one community is amplified and echoed by the similar unique events in many of the state’s other 38 communities.

Covering a neighborhood meeting recently, I watched as the group began to overfill the room. The crowd grew more vocal, individual voices melding into a chorus of protest against a common foe. A middle-age woman, her T-shirt testifying to her community allegiance, asked if I’d ever seen anything so crazy. I gave her a noncommittal smile but said nothing. Yes, I could have answered, a hundred times yes, but then I’d have to explain that it was not in this town, not this issue and maybe not even in this decade. This might be the most important issue her town will ever face; she doesn’t need to know I covered a similar situation years ago in a place on the other side of the rainbow.

That’s not a complaint. There is comfort in the predictable and routine, in life coming around again. And it tests your powers of perception and reflection.

At the end of the movie, Phil Connors’ spin cycle ends, but only after he accepts the absurdity of his predicament and embraces the challenge of making everyone’s lives better in each episode. Like Phil Connors, we can tweak our perspectives each time we awaken in the same orbit. We can frame each new day with others perspectives, layering new insight over familiarity to get beyond the routine to the truly remarkable.

copyright 2016 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Gallery

Something greater than ourselves

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“You never know when you’re making a memory.” — Rickie Lee Jones, “Young Blood”

Every day at The Providence Journal, photographers wade in to cover a variety of assignments.

We photograph key people, places and events, often for stories that are still unformed, still works in progress, their significance unclear when the shutter drops.

They’re like Polaroid prints fresh out of the camera: nascent, embryonic scenes whose importance materializes over time, often quite a bit of time.

Sometimes we don’t know what we’ve gotten until we see it in the context of the page or on the website.

We shoot in the moment, but that’s not where the impact lies. The present yields the image; the future holds the scale, the significance.

Occasionally, however, we find ourselves immersed in things that become larger than life as we watch.

That was the feeling Monday evening as people gathered in front of The Dark Lady and Alley Cat nightclubs on Snow Street in Providence.

The LGBT community had come together to hold a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings.

But by the time the procession reached the steps of the State House, it had morphed into something greater.

I found myself swimming in the familiar waters of an expanding event, something truly marvelous to see.

In a somber parade initiated by the gay community but fueled by the Rhode Island community, many people coalesced into one, under one roof, with one mission: Care and support.

For me, at least, that image will be memorable forever.

copyright 2016 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Graduate Studies

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Que sera, sera

Whatever will be, will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que sera, sera

— “Que Sera, Sera” (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) by songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans

‘Where do you think you’ll be in 10 years?”

We are right in the middle of commencement season, the end of ceremonies at colleges and the beginning at high schools, and there’s no better time to torture a recent graduate with “the question.” But I can never ask it for fear of becoming the caricature of a sitcom grandfather.

If you ask someone in their 30s or 40s, you’ll get a rational, passionless answer about the uncertain state of the economy or jobs, or something about their kids growing up.

But with newbie graduates, you’re likely to get a recitation of the steps they will follow in a lifelong quest.

Or you might get an irrational, passionate rock-star dream.

Or maybe just a dazed stare. They are jumping off a cliff and don’t even know if there’s water down there.

I can’t say I regret any of the decisions that have led me to my here and now. Our family motto was keep moving forward if you make a wise choice — and if wasn’t so wise, learn from it and keep moving forward anyway. But how different would I be if I had dived into my post-grad dream of veterinary school instead of chucking it for love of photography? Would I still be taking photos, but in a different way?

I was walking recently through one of my favorite graduation experiences of the year: the RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition at the R.I. Convention Center. Put it on your calendar for next year if you missed this season’s gallery showing of wow, wonderment and “what the heck is that?” The collection showing traditional art and design principles juxtaposed with tech and whimsy makes me curious about the futures of these young artists. What if they had not come to RISD, an environment that nurtures an artistic freedom and individuality not embraced everywhere. Would they still be pursuing art?

I like to follow the artists behind pieces that stand out to see if in a few years they are still creating or have moved on to other things. I’ve recognized an MFA textile designer’s pieces in photos from a New York fashion runway and a photography MFA grad’s book on display in a bookstore window.

A few might be gallery favorites one day. Some will burn out in the highly critical environment. Many will find another way to pay the bills while they keep creating for love in a small studio or a garage.

What would my answer have been if someone had asked me after my college graduation, a hundred years ago, it seems, “Where do you think you’ll be in 10 years?”

I wonder whether I would have made a good vet.

I try to see myself doing something other than what I do now, but there’s a filter I can’t remove. I do imagine other versions of my life. And I always picture them with a camera in my hand.

copyright 2016 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

P.S.  The work I am reflected in above is “Ordinary Perfection”, a video installation by Liao Liao, a Digital Media MFA graduate 

 

Plenty of Bones to pick

Rhode Island School of Design freshman Eliza Von Cerneck finds a quiet spot off to the side of the white-walled display room that is part of the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab in RISD’s Waterman Building.

On this day, the illustration major works on drawings of human joints and skull detail alone in the “bone room.” On rolling stands, in glass cases, and on wall and table displays the remains of a variety of animals large and small can be found.

According to Betsy Sara Ruppa, the lab coordinator for the Nature Lab, the bones of reptiles, primates, dogs and dolphins are real, but the human skeletons, sometimes posed as ballerinas, or shot putters for a student project, are replicas.

Students of all grades and all of the school’s departments use the bones and skeletons as reference in drawing, painting, sculpting or whatever artistic endeavor they choose. The Nature Lab provides students like Eliza a place to find and study shape, texture, patterns.

The bone room is where the skeletons of the past provide a future for the students of the present.

copyright 2015  Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design