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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SO NO ONE IS LEFT BEHIND

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I watch the man edging toward a large marker in a family plot.

Clutched in his fist are pristine — dowels holding bright, crisp, napkin-size renditions of the Stars and Stripes. They’re a contrast with the flags wedged under his arm, mere remnants of their past glory — dowels broken and warped, cloth edges shredded, stripes torn, and the once-blue fields of stars sun-faded. He handles them all, new and old, with the respect they command.

Around the big marker in the plot there are smaller stones bearing mere initials. There’s nothing to indicate a war veteran is interred here, but Farrell W. “call me Sal” Salgueiro has been here enough times to know. He pushes the dowel of a new flag into the ground next to one of the small markers. Before Memorial Day, he will have done this again and again and again, at about 400 graves of East Providence war veterans.

At 72, Sal knows he won’t be able to do this forever. He’s a Vietnam War veteran who spent 1966 as an Army motor-pool records clerk in that ravaged country halfway around the world. About 17 years ago, he began joining his father-in-law, a World War II veteran, on these flag-replacing rounds. Eventually Sal and a few other guys, veterans like him from VFW Post 5382, relieved the older men. The post closed down some years ago and Sal outlived his buddies, so these days it’s just him and his flags.

“This is the toughest part,” he says, pointing off to the right, “the old part” that is Newman cemetery, one of three cemeteries — Newman, Hunt and Rumford — in the perimeter that he tends. “These are tough. They are slate and hard to read. You got some [graves] that go back to the 1700s in there. You got some old stones, old soldiers.”

Across the street, in the larger cemetery next to the Newman Congregational Church, Lions Club members replace flags for the veterans holidays. The Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter has offered up Cub Scouts to help Sal, but he’s declined. “They don’t know where the markers are,” he says. “They wouldn’t know how to find them.” He’s concerned that some who served their country would be missed.

Slowly, Sal heads back to his SUV to carefully slip the old flags into a bin for a proper decommissioning in Exeter. He’s placed about 140 flags and he’s done for the day. He’ll come back again soon to finish, to make sure he didn’t miss anyone just because their grave was hidden or so old that the name has faded away. By Memorial Day there will be a new flag at each grave, old and new, of every veteran here, all of them treated with the respect they deserve.

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

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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

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

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 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

In the Pocket

enterprise  feature Photojournalists all have favorites. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of images are taken for sporting events, news and lifestyle stories, but the standalone images – the ones with no story other than what you read into the image – are my favorite. We call these enterprise photos, wild art, features. These are the slice-of-life images that happen between daily assignments. There are times when everything falls into place, you spot one of those magic moments and you’re ready to capture it. The little girl in the photo was playing with her dad at the statue of Fanny the Elephant at Slater Park in Pawtucket last year. They were laughing and having fun, but it was after I introduced myself and got their names, (for the paper) that I saw this shot as they turned to walk away. The little doll head was peeking out of the dad’s pocket. I took two very quick frames and that was it. It’s the quirkiness of the image that still makes me smile.

copyright 2014  Kris Craig/ The Providence Journal

Smoke Gets in your Eyes

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“Whenever I see your smiling face, I have to smile myself …” – James Taylor

I see faces everywhere – mostly on people out living their lives, playing, laughing, loving. They give me something to see, and when I see something, I photograph it. Faces make my job a lot easier.

And then there are times when there are no people around. No quirky smiles, no disarming looks, no human interaction.

But I still see faces: the smiling grin viewed in the grill of a car, its recessed headlights resembling eyes laughing at me as it zooms closer in the rearview mirror.

On the buttered side of a piece of toast, maybe it’s Elvis glaring up at me.

When light hits something – anything – in just the right way, it can lend enough depth to make the inanimate appear animate. Imagination plays a big part, of course, as in that face in the creases of tree bark that resemble a smiling man. I’m probably not the only one who sees it.

Walking behind the Biltmore Hotel one day recently, I happened to spot a group of smokers heading back inside to work. I caught sight of the smoke box – a receptacle for cigarettes mounted on the building’s back wall. Wispy streams of blue smoke emanated from the vent holes as the contents still smoldered from the recently stamped-out butts.

I looked first for the interesting smoke patterns, but then noticed the real prize: metallic features looking back at me. A devilish smile formed on both our faces. I had my picture.

Copyright 2014 Kris Craig / Providence Journal

Pink

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The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.- Aristotle. 

I saw the pink hair first while entering the Dunkin Donuts Center for a recent Providence College/Seton Hall basketball game. With a minute to go before halftime, bright strands of glowing colorful wigs were as visible as the Plum beach lighthouse at night. A wave of young women, teens and dance students were led to position themselves for their halftime show. They walked in matching strides, a purposeful sameness as they passed. Not a brunette, blond, black or red haired performer anywhere. Each with matching outfits featuring the same black ribbon adorning their faux hair. Their leggings were ringed by glowing tutus as intensely pink as their wigs. They synched.

Here were 44 young women from the Carolyn Dutra Dance Studios waiting anxiously to take the floor at center court. A dance group made up of many but moving as one, some looking nervous, fidgety. Nine-year-old Brooklyn Kyriakaki heard the click of my camera shutter. She grinned as she saw me sitting on the game floor with my all my photo gear. And, just like that, there was just one again, a distinctive face in a crowd of faces, one focus, one look, poised, prepared, hard working , ready to dance. She posed for just another second, and rewarded with another click, she turned her attention back to the business at hand, not her business but the team’s business. The pink and black dance team, because that was the whole reason she was there.

Copyright 2014 Kris Craig / Providence Journal