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

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

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

Light Play

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Light is funny. It’s the fuel our photographic dreams run on. It is, after all, what photography is about. By definition, it is drawing with light.

Photographers talk about the quality of light, soft or hard, and quantity, how much we need to make a photo. We struggle to control it, a force wild and unpredictable one moment and docile and forgiving the next. We use umbrellas and boxes to shape and mold it. Light sets the tone, the mood, the atmosphere, the very structure of our photographs.

I am continually aware of the light around me, where shadows fall, where highlights glow and faces glisten. Light and shadow are the yin and yang of my profession. And they are elusive, their successful capture confirmed only after the image has been revealed, never at the time the shutter falls.

If Yogi Berra were to have mused about serendipity and photography, he might have concluded something like this: Perfect light is often an imperfect lighting situation that produces the perfect light for the situation.

The old Kodak info slip with a roll of film would instruct photographers to put the sun behind them, completely lighting the subject, or use a flash in the dark, as if to say light good, dark bad. But it’s never that simple.

On an early evening during rush-hour traffic, I am watching the light from the headlights of the many cars moving down Fountain Street play off the people walking along the sidewalk and crossing the street. It’s a kaleidoscope of warm tones in a hard urban setting. And the man in the photo, obscured by the pole but reflected by the wall, takes on a mysterious, Hitchcockian cast. He ís both there and not there. Light is funny.

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

Spontaneity

Spelunking I have a phone in my pocket, and like many others it has replaced a jumble of items I use on a daily basis: the GPS, Web browser, sketchbook, recorder, guitar amp, language books and even my flashlight. But with all it does, I still have hangups (pardon the pun) about using my phone as a camera. I’ve listened dumbfounded while friends rave about their camera phones and the photos they’ve taken when I know that their best phone camera is not even close to the quality I get with my worst point-and-shoot.

But, alas, when I climb down off my high horse, it is easier to see what everyone is really so happy about. It’s the spontaneity, the accessibility of having a camera, any camera right there to help capture life as you see it, when you see it. As a member of the photo-obsessed who has been carrying camera equipment as a body part over the vast majority of my existence, I sometimes forget how lucky I am to always have had artistic freedom of expression right at hand.

There are times when real life trumps photo life, and I was recently forced to leave my cameras behind while joining a friend to see SPELUNK II, an art and dance exhibit featuring local artists Carl Dimitri, Christine Kim, Mike Yefko and Carl Hirsh at Aurora, in Providence. With live music and a visual presentation in the background, patrons donned headlamps to explore the artworks in a darkened room. I was fascinated by how it all visually came together and how some visitors, like this young silhouetted couple, were enveloped in the kaleidoscopic scene. Caught without my camera, I did what many others now do every day, I called on my phone to satisfy my photo needs.

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

What’s in a name?

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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