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

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 

 

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

Red Shoes

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‘Fashions fade, style is eternal.’ – Yves Saint Laurent

Ask me what StyleWeek Northeast is about and I’m hard pressed to come up with a simple answer. Of course, it’s about design, fashion, creativity, and yes, models. But there’s something about the venue that makes my heart beat a little faster. It’s all about “Style:” personal, artistic, professional and photographic. Fashion is fine, but style, that’s about distinction, individuality and confidence.
There’s no denying the fun of the catwalk, but it’s watching the watchers that’s the real photo treat. Guests arrive dressed to kill. StyleWeek attendees are given carte blanche to come as they are or as they want to be. They’re dolled up, tucked in, spit shined, coiffed and combed. The beautiful people, the fashion pros and fledglings, art and design leaders and their followers are laid out right there before me and my camera — served up on a very elegantly attired platter.
The legs and the ruby red Lucite wedge booties belong to StyleWeek Northeast Event director Toyin Omisore and were caught on the 10th anniversary of this winter’s show in Providence.

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

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