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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

A Man for All Seasons

Man for All Seasons Column final

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

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

Bubble

Bubble FinalIf it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad — Sheryl Crow

I like soap bubbles and had just found a remnant from a kid-friendly gathering. Not missing a chance, I blew a froth of bubbles skyward. A half-inch stream jetted from the wand and separated neatly into shiny little globes floating gently upward … except for one.  It started drifting away with the others but stopped in mid-flight, its stall unbefitting a soap bubble. I found something to stand on and discovered the tiny sphere’s gossamer anchor: a slender thread of spider silk reaching from roof to deck. I grabbed a camera, a set of close-up tubes and a macro lens and started shooting.

This is a photograph of the bubble. If someone looked deep enough, they might find a metaphor for life and the fragility of our existence or maybe freedom thwarted by unforeseen circumstance. I won’t find that inside. It is just a photo of a bubble. It was a curious sight and fun for me to figure out a way to shoot it.

Professionally and personally, I advocate for taking photos of whatever makes you happy — yes, even instagram food pics.  I don’t always know why I am shooting someone or something, but if he/she/it moves me, even a little, I want to figure it out with my camera, deciding later if I am a genius or delusional for crawling, climbing, jumping to get at it and then working it to death.  In the end this photo may not have lived up to the effort of making it, but I’m satisfied — maybe not with the image but at least with the subject. Bubbles make me happy.

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

The Rear View

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There’s a strange truth in the media; we all die an “award-winning journalist.”

And contest time, an honored tradition, is a seasonal ritual that rolls around at the end of every year. Journalists of all shapes and media sizes take stock of the work they’ve done. I don’t enter many contests anymore, but muscle memory compels me to revisit this rear-view habit.

In the news business, where the distance between today and yesterday could be a thousand miles, these “call for entries” make us pause the “now” to peek over our shoulder at the past year. I get a second chance to explore the reasons a particular image ran when another did not. A chance to ask what went right, what went wrong, or would I cover the event the same way again.

And then, there’s a moment when you’re looking at an image you’d forgotten about and reconnect, if only in memory, with the families or individual staring back at you.

The photo above is not a trophy winner. It’s 7-year-old Dounya Eskaf, of Lincoln, chasing down bubbles in front of a stalled Memorial Day color guard. It was just one subtle, sweet distraction from news coverage that never found a home in The Journal or its website.

When I look at a year’s work through a retrospective lens, what I do – what we do – isn’t about some contest, award or plaque, it’s about the faces in the photos. It’s about the experiences I’ve had over the past year and the people I’ve had the honor to meet, and even though I know most of those photos would never earn awards, they certainly feel like winners to me….

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

What’s in a name?

Protest

I have just taken a photo of you. You were standing strong in front of a crowd of strangers and I listened as you spoke up for those without a voice.  Maybe I saw you standing hours in line looking for something to help yourself feel stronger.  I saw you laughing or crying, playing with your child, or celebrating life as only you can.  It doesn’t matter.  I approach and introduce myself.

“My name is Kris, and I work for The Providence Journal.”
Not the most articulate of opening lines, but here I am, standing in front of you with two or three cameras hanging from my neck or shoulder, a Providence Journal ID clipped in full view.  I make myself as obvious as possible in the hope you will feel at ease enough to answer my next question.

“May I get your name, please?”

I ask this almost every day, often more times than I can count.  Sometimes I get names, other times I don’t, as in this case.  When people ask me why I need their name, I tell them the truth.  Without a name to go with your face, you don’t exist, you aren’t real, you are just a possible truth, an unsigned review, an unnamed source, a media manifestation that in a world of Internet hoaxes and reality TV will give people one more cause to wonder, “Is this image true or staged?”

During interviews, a journalist wants a face to go with quotes to make the words grounded to the real world and not appearing as something pulled from the imagination.

A name gives a photo that same weight.  I want people to know that you are their neighbor, their friend, their unsung hero. And, like the rest of us, you have a name.

copyright 2014  Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Scenic Humor

Leaf recyle and dropoff in Barrington April 2014

A great landscape photograph – a scenic that truly works – takes a lot of time and effort. It is rarely just a pretty scene you come upon. It’s planning and patience, a balance of light and composition, and repeated failure until you get the version of an image that takes your breath away just as it did when you experienced it in real life.

True confession: I don’t get scenics. When I am standing on the mountain and seeing a heart-stopping site, the last thing I want to do is take a photo of it.

But when I do, (I am a photographer after all), I take the picture to remember how much I loved where I was. Scenics for most people are attempts to make a memory of a place, not art.

I like my landscapes slightly askew, awkward, images with a sprinkle of humor.

I want a person or a horse or maybe a monkey to walk into the frame. Traits that do not translate well in this photographic category.

The masters – the Ansel Adamses of the world – are all business and produce art that touches everyone. Me? I just want to have fun.

Exhibit A: A Barrington friend once best described her hometown life as living on another planet. I thought I found that realized in an image I made at the leaf dump along Route 114: The rotting yard debris made for an unreal surface, and the threatening dark clouds reflected in the brown water.

It all just worked for me, and I thought it was creepy and funny at the same time. …

copyright 2014 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal

I am Lucky

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I’m lucky I can run. It’s therapeutic, calming, relaxing. I was built for it – small frame, long legs. My skinny ankles turned out to be an asset. My knees hold up. I stay in constant motion; I don’t sit well. There was a time when I could win the race, not the age group. The race mattered to me – you either win or lose. There was nothing else. Black or white – I was good, not great. I could beat other runners, lots of them, and I liked that. Finishing first mattered. I don’t compete with others anymore. I run because I can. I liked the challenge, 5k, 10k, marathons. Distance didn’t matter. To do it right, to try to compete, you have to practice – a lot. I just don’t have that anymore. On a good day with the sun hiding behind clouds and the temperature just right, I will run longer than usual. I do trails. I do loops. I add one, two, three miles to the run – for fun. I’m lucky. I am sore some days, but it’s the good kind. I am not training for anything. I don’t stop, but know I can if I want to, or at least slow down. I see grays now. I run because I can. I’m lucky. I can run.

Copyright 2014 / Kris Craig / Providence Journal

The King

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Juan Cotto and I had never met. I don’t know where he lives. I don’t know what he does for a living. I don’t know the first thing about him other than I really liked the way he looked when he smoked. Something clicked when I saw him. A beckoning whiff of a cherry-laced aroma drew me to the man wearing the spotless red sneaks below the knee shorts, and a black hoodie. His razor-edged beard and a pair of aviators top off the look. He’s channeled CeeLo Green and looked just as smooth.

Wedged between his fingers was the second half of a well-smoked cigar. Settled back against the black of a wrought-iron fence that bordered a small parking lot and situated just within the shady reach of a small sidewalk-bound tree, he’s comfortable and cool. I watched him pull on a cigar and exhale a thin, blue line. Something in my brain kicked in. I see it and I want it. I am single-minded and selfish like a toddler taking a first trip to a toy store. The whole world is my mind’s photo collection and can’t go on until I get what I want. My camera is a new toy, a pill for what ails me. I see the picture I want and all its possibility: color, black and white, long lens, short lens, motion blurred, and panned versions of the photo appear in my head before I’ve even pressed the shutter button. Blinders on and full speed ahead. I walk up and stop in front of Juan and ask if I can take a photo of his next puff. He nodded, the king of the corner, approving a royal request, and took another long draw on his cigar. As I walked away, he called behind me. “That’s for the Web or something?”

Yeah, sure. Something, I think. …

copyright 2014  Kris Craig/ The Providence Journal

River Talk

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I have have loved the big, shiny, jagged edged, donut shaped sculpture along the Providence Riverwalk on South Water St. since first seeing it as one of the many art works that were introduced during the Convergence Arts Festival sculpture exhibit in 2002. The hard colorless piece settled in wickedly sharp contrast to green grasses surrounding it and the fluid flowing river behind it. I’ve watched people admire the sculpture but only gingerly touch the metal surfaces for fear of edges that could cut or scratch or even cause a tip that would roll the sculpture away. It was something to see Andrea Sassenrath (left) and Antonia Piccone, both Brown University students taking a running break and using artist Rob Lorenson’s brilliantly, beautiful sculpture “Textured Gear” as resting place to catch their breath. Antonia comfortably sitting on a jagged edge inside the sculpted metal ring and Andrea framed by it. I’d never seen anyone so at ease with it, so at home, it’s sharp edges not looking quite so sharp and truly making the work of art a part of the Providence landscape.

Copyright 2013 Kris Craig / Providence Journal