Turner grad portrays human condition
Colin Crowley is a translator.
Using his camera, he records images of human drama: communities flattened by earthquakes, families living in squalor and orphaned children born with HIV.
Then he turns the images into pictures and videos that an American can understand—even if that American is surfing the Web while snacking on Cheetos in an air-conditioned bedroom.
“When you go overseas, children are basically destroyed en masse. Starvation, disease … just literally destroyed,” Crowley said.
“I don’t know how much I can change that, but I’ve made a goal of making people aware of that through photography. I try to share it with kids and translate it so Americans can understand.”
Crowley, 28, is a 1997 graduate of Beloit Turner High School. He has been working as a freelance photojournalist and runs his own business, Newbeat Productions. Later this month, he will start work as an emergency response media officer for Save the Children, UK.
He will travel nine months out of the year with teams that respond to worldwide natural and man-made disasters; he will record the non-profit’s work.
Crowley got the experience for the job during two stays in Kenya where he took pictures and produced videos of HIV-positive children for another non-profit, the American Foundation for Children with AIDS.
Crowley got used to working in the sweltering heat. And he learned to deal with the daily emotional roller coaster of watching families scrambling to feed their families.
The hard part was shooting video of HIV-positive children who didn’t know they had HIV. It wasn’t up to Colin to tell them.
He remembers one boy who knew about his affliction. The 10-year-old and his 6-year-old sister had hiked for two hours in the heat to meet with Crowley. Crowley had been annoyed, waiting in the heat for the kids to show up.
The boy talked about how he and his sister fended for themselves since their parents died of AIDS. They usually ate once a day—a meal of porridge, Crowley said.
Crowley took the kids out to eat and asked if there was anything he could get them that day.
“He said it would be nice to have a second set of clothes and maybe some soap,” Crowley said. “They were always running out of soap.”
Afterward, Crowley went home and flipped on CNN. The story broadcast from the United States was about obesity in pets. Crowley remembers a woman crying about how hard it was to get her dog to lose weight.
“Literally, pets in America live better than those kids,” Crowley said. “The absurdity of the gap between the haves and the have nots passes a point of being tragic to being comic.”
Crowley did not study journalism or photography in college, although he did take his first pictures in photography class at Turner High School.
“They were bad,” he said.
He graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2002 with a degree in French and political science. In the summer of 1999, Crowley interned with The Janesville Gazette photo department.
Crowley said the biggest skill needed for a photojournalist is a willingness to be open to new ideas.
“You have to be extremely open-minded and flexible,” Crowley said. “You have to be intellectually curious, and you have to come into these situations and just listen.”
Crowley’s personality, along with his photography skills, convinced American Foundation for Children with AIDS Executive Director Tanya Weaver to hire him, she said.
“He had the heart that we wanted, that’s why I ended up hiring him,” Weaver said. “I think that you can look at his photos and see poverty and needs, and you can see dignity.”
Beloit Township native Colin Crowley travels the world as a photojournalist. To learn more about Crowley and to view some of his work, visit his Web site at www.newbeatproductions.com.
Crowley has worked for the American Foundation for Children with AIDS, and spent several months documenting Kenyan children with HIV. An example of his work—a short film about a 13-year-old girl named Beverlyne born with HIV in Mombasa—is available at www.helpchildrenwithaids.org.