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

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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

Graduate Studies

RISD show

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

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

I am Lucky

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I’m lucky I can run. It’s therapeutic, calming, relaxing. I was built for it – small frame, long legs. My skinny ankles turned out to be an asset. My knees hold up. I stay in constant motion; I don’t sit well. There was a time when I could win the race, not the age group. The race mattered to me – you either win or lose. There was nothing else. Black or white – I was good, not great. I could beat other runners, lots of them, and I liked that. Finishing first mattered. I don’t compete with others anymore. I run because I can. I liked the challenge, 5k, 10k, marathons. Distance didn’t matter. To do it right, to try to compete, you have to practice – a lot. I just don’t have that anymore. On a good day with the sun hiding behind clouds and the temperature just right, I will run longer than usual. I do trails. I do loops. I add one, two, three miles to the run – for fun. I’m lucky. I am sore some days, but it’s the good kind. I am not training for anything. I don’t stop, but know I can if I want to, or at least slow down. I see grays now. I run because I can. I’m lucky. I can run.

Copyright 2014 / Kris Craig / Providence Journal

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