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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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

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 

 

Light Play

Good Light column

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

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

Energy

Kris Column April 2015 - I have been doing this a long time, so why is it I still find myself standing in a light drizzle in front of AS220’s black box theater having an argument with the logical side of my brain?  I came here to see a group of young local artists who were putting on an event to showcase their various talents in painting, graphic and clothing design, video, photography and music. I glance in the door and my left brain starts flashing yellow “You don’t belong here” warning messages. This is a place for kids, young adults.  I counter with the need to energize creativity, to the applause of my right brain. While I argue in my head the rest of me lets the music that’s been leaking out to the sidewalk draw me in.  This isn’t about age. This is about energy. This is about curiosity, and the things that fuel life and career. I am here to observe and to explore, hoping to be wowed or at least a little inspired. There is potential here by virtue of the young, colorfully multi-ethnic, multi-societal crowd; a crowd that is so not like mine.  Small displays of artworks line two walls. There are racks with graphic T’s and morphing videos project on a cluster of dancers. Moving freely in the center of this kinetic universe is Ninya Prince, a young student artist pursuing video and fashion design and who loves to dance. Here he does so freely, unbridled, unrestrained.  The hip-hop grows out from the center of the room, fueled by his energy and that of the crowd moving like a human wave synchronized to the DJ’s beats. A chorus rises, drowning out the artist’s own version.  I feel energized watching people being people. I shoot photos because I feel I should, with the need to capture what I’m taking in and to pass that feeling on the best way I know how.  There are newer versions of me, more subtle with their moments, filling the gaps, taking in the glow, filming the scene with video cameras and lights held up high.  I am asked about my c

I have been doing this a long time, so why is it I still find myself standing in a light drizzle in front of AS220’s black box theater having an argument with the logical side of my brain?

I came here to see a group of young local artists who were putting on an event to showcase their various talents in painting, graphic and clothing design, video, photography and music. I glance in the door and my left brain starts flashing yellow “You don’t belong here” warning messages. This is a place for kids, young adults.

I counter with the need to energize creativity, to the applause of my right brain. While I argue in my head the rest of me lets the music that’s been leaking out to the sidewalk draw me in.

This isn’t about age. This is about energy. This is about curiosity, and the things that fuel life and career. I am here to observe and to explore, hoping to be wowed or at least a little inspired. There is potential here by virtue of the young, colorfully multi-ethnic, multi-societal crowd; a crowd that is so not like mine.

Small displays of artworks line two walls. There are racks with graphic T’s and morphing videos project on a cluster of dancers. Moving freely in the center of this kinetic universe is Ninya Prince, a young student artist pursuing video and fashion design and who loves to dance. Here he does so freely, unbridled, unrestrained.

The hip-hop grows out from the center of the room, fueled by his energy and that of the crowd moving like a human wave synchronized to the DJ’s beats. A chorus rises, drowning out the artist’s own version.

I feel energized watching people being people. I shoot photos because I feel I should, with the need to capture what I’m taking in and to pass that feeling on the best way I know how.

There are newer versions of me, more subtle with their moments, filling the gaps, taking in the glow, filming the scene with video cameras and lights held up high.

I am asked about my camera and shooting style by budding photographers with questions about techniques and the business. I answer them and hope they leave satisfied, maybe sent down a path they might not have walked before. Something new can do that. A word or two, a place. Energy comes in all forms.

But it is time for me to go.

It’s misty outside, but I don’t notice over the buzz in my head.

The right side of my brain mulls snippets of possible future art and video projects I want to make, something with a heavy beat and fluid motion — and the left logical side wonders how it could have been so wrong. I leave feeling ready to work in the real world again, taking in enough power from the room to recharge my creative battery for a few more weeks.

Energy. We absorb it, translate it, transform and transfer it.

They say it can’t be created or destroyed, but it’s so much more powerful when we trade it back and forth.

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