Dog, Gone

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Thirty-six hours before my dog died, we played fetch in the dark. It was something she loved to do, something still within range, but it was more than that. It seemed to liberate her from the indignities of age and make her feel like a puppy again.

Her eyesight was in decline, and in the glare of day it was hard for her to distinguish shapes. But against the curtain of night she could spot and chase our glowing, LED-lit ball. She’d lope across the field in the gathering blackness, tongue out, tail wagging furiously.

And then on a floodlit day that dawned too soon, the blackness closed in. On her last morning alive, I tried to get her to share my vanilla ice-cream cone, an existential bribe. Please, Isis, eat something. Anything. She ignored the treat but rewarded me with a tail wag for the gesture.

My dog is dead and I am lost. I’ve never been much for the drumbeat of routine, but if Isis taught me anything, it’s was this: Routines and rituals are rhythms that lend a richness to our days, a soothing pattern, one I followed and hardly noticed.

I notice it now, morning to night. I find pieces are missing, the puzzle incomplete. The 16 years, 8 months and 27 days of Isis’s existence flowed through my life like a river carrying the steadiest and sweetest routines of my adulthood, and I am lonely where being alone was never before an issue.

Named for the Egyptian goddess of the moon, fertility, magic and healing, Isis was never farther than a whistle away. Like people and dogs will do, we woke together, her head popping up from her bed as mine from my pillow. We walked, ran, paddled or swam together daily, exercise coach and workout buddy. Weather permitting, she worked with me, sleeping in the car between photo assignments, occasionally nuzzling forward to remind of her presence. She ate when I ate, played when I played, worked when I worked.

I joke that my siblings and I were raised by dogs. With the number of mutts, mixes and pedigrees that have shared our lives, there’s truth in that. It’s hard to tell who gets the better end of the deal. Who’s taking whom for a walk, and who gains more from it? A recent Swedish study found that, other things being equal, people with dogs are less likely to contend with cardiovascular disease and premature death. There’s a lot of research, analysis and common-sense articles chronicling the physical and psychological benefits of canine company. “Man’s best friend” has the power to regulate our blood pressure, soothe our anxiety, stress and depression, encourage socialization and enhance our physical well-being.

Am I who am I am because of Isis and the other dogs who have shared my tracks? Probably not, but I know their unfettered, unfiltered, unconditional love has shaped my sensibilities.

There are far greater tragedies in this world than the death of a pet, especially one who lived so well for so very long. But right now I can’t think of one. Things will stay quiet at home for my wife and me. We will adjust. I’ll donate Isis’ pillows, toys and treats to animal rescue.

But I’ll keep the LED ball where it is for now, in a fruit bowl on the counter. There’s probably one more dog’s life in our future, and one day there will be another reason to turn it on, head out under the cerulean sky of a summer evening and race against the dying of the light. It won’t be the same, of course. It can’t be. The timeless quest is a fresh expedition each time. That’s the point.

I imagined Isis would leave this world running full speed across a field, tongue out and tail wagging furiously. I think we came close enough to call this one a win.

____________________________________________________________________________________________           This photo was taken by close friend and photographer Cheryl Senter during a short visit in NH. I’d gone north to the woods to be away from people and by myself for a few days and of course, my dog came with me.

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The Lighter Side

The lighter side

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon when I met East Greenwich sisters Olivia and Sydney Estner visiting the RISD Museum on Jan. 7.

It was the museum’s Super Art Sunday, a family-oriented, free-admission affair, and most visitors were wandering the main galleries or gathering in family-oriented sketching, craft-building and kids’ programs scattered among the art and design exhibits.

But the Estner sisters made their way down to the quiet reaches of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Student Exhibitions Gallery on the first floor. I asked Olivia, a college freshman on break, and high school student Sydney, who would “like to do something in arts or fashion,” what brought them to the student gallery on this fine day.

It was the light, they said, the sunbeam painting a broad swath of the room in the searing white and sidelong shadows of winter, a fashion-noir runway perfectly suited to their real imperative, which they revealed with sisterly laughter: “We like taking pictures of ourselves.” In this frame, Olivia poses while Sydney photographs.

The work behind them is “Buldge,” a series of fabric, poly-fil, rope and acrylic paint on panels, by Lily Angotti and Matthew Shelley.

copyright 2018 / Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

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

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

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