Sometimes it is life’s most challenging situations that change our perspective and paths. For this exceptional photographer and filmmaker, it was Haiti’s devastating earthquake that readjusted not only her career but it also gave a new meaning to her work and passions.
The world was shaken with Haiti’s deadly earthquake almost a decade ago. On that unfortunate January afternoon about 250,000 lives were lost. Crystaline Randazzo was living in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. As a newlywed, she had just moved there to be with her husband, leaving behind what felt at that time like a promising photography career in the entertainment industry. Crystal was settling in and becoming acquainted with the expat lifestyle when things took an unforeseen detour.
Many of her photography peers were encouraging Crystal to document the aftermath of the earthquake, they believed the images would be great for her professional career. Her humanity and intuition however, were telling her to do the opposite. Instead of taking her camera out on the streets, she was helping evacuate foreign families, getting formula for newborns, supporting local Haitian friends and getting her hands on anything that would benefit others.
This is not a heroic version of Crystaline. This is who she is. She is that woman who would make you a meal if you’re sick, who helps empower others, who patiently listens to the struggles of people around her, who will take time off her own busy work schedule to walk with you step by step till you find solutions, possibilities and opportunities. She is selfless yet driven.
Having personally known Crystal for some years now, I just knew her story had to be featured in The Elephant Soul blog. Her life as a creative entrepreneur is both exciting and inspiring. Before becoming an expat, Crystal was running a large project in the entertainment industry. She shares:
“Prior to getting married, joining the Foreign Service, and moving overseas I was running large, commercial photo shoots for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus and Disney on Ice Shows. I managed logistics, a large team of photographers, and all postproduction and digital asset management for Feld Entertainment.”
Crystal grew up in New Mexico, but she knew from early on that once she left her hometown she would want to see the world, and so she did. When asked if she always wanted to live in a different country Crystal said:
“I think I caught the travel bug early in my life. My grandmother had an intrepid spirit and she broadened my horizons with a trip to Germany when I was quite young. As soon as I was old enough to branch out on my own, I spent a summer in Costa Rica and another summer in Prague and London during my photograph studies. When I met my husband and learned he was soon to join the Foreign Service, it didn’t seem strange at all to live in new places.”
This decision has taken Crystal to remote areas around the world and in most cases, to live and work in some of the most challenging ones like Haiti, which is still the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere or Nepal, where nearly 25% of its population lives below the poverty line.*
Despite the hardship that we can all relate to when we live in the developing world, Crystal has had gratifying experiences both personally and professionally. This is what she said when we asked her about her most rewarding experience of living as an expat:
“My most rewarding experience as an expat has been having the opportunity and the time to figure out the kind of work that brings my life meaning. I thought that I wanted to be a photographer, but my experiences in the Foreign Service have led me to challenge that idea and do much more. These days, I’m a photographer, filmmaker, and storytelling specialist for nonprofit organizations. I doubt that this is where I would have ended up if I would have stayed in the United States.
I know it’s easy to look at our challenges in this life and think that our lives, and especially our careers , have been inhibited by it. But we have a precious commodity that most people don’t have. We have time to think about what it is we are most passionate about. I believe that this time, combined with a bit of creativity, can lead you farther in your life and career than you ever imagined. Be open to the possibilities and follow the clues that will lead you to living a vibrant, fulfilling life.”
Naturally, Crystaline’s expat life has not been short of challenges. To her, “the most challenging part of this life is the ongoing transition. Moving to a new place every few years means that the rules and comfort zone are ever changing. It almost always takes me 4-6 months to unpack the boxes, find work, feel like I know where I can go to find milk or eggs, and importantly find like-minded people (a tribe) that helps me through. Much of that falls on me personally, as my partner is settling into a new job. It means I don’t always have the capacity to put 100% into my work and that has its challenges.”
Isn’t that true? When you leave one country to move into the next, you leave more than just good friends and fun memories behind. Your work structure, creative project and business prospects take a hit, just as does your creativity. In this regard, it is helpful to know how Crystaline decided to give creativity a chance in her nomadic lifestyle. This is what she said:
“ I had an interesting “aha!” moment a few years after joining this lifestyle. My husband and I were re-assigned back to Washington, D.C. after living abroad in Haiti and Zambia. I was excited to go back and convinced that D.C. would provide a better path for my career than life overseas had. Upon returning, I almost immediately found work as a photographer. I photographed weddings, family portraits, and conferences. I also took a part time job as a studio manager.
I was getting a lot more work than I’d gotten overseas, so I was surprised to realize I still wasn’t content. I learned that being a photographer is difficult no matter where you lived. I spent most weekends away from my partner and I wasn’t making much money.
This experience taught me that while working overseas is challenging, it also provided me the opportunity to do the work I was most passionate about. Photography alone wasn’t what made me happy. Telling stories about things that mattered was very important to me.
When we left D.C. for Rwanda, I made a decision to say no to all the work I didn’t want to do. No more weddings, conferences, or family photos. Instead, I focused primarily on building a business that provided photos, video, and multimedia pieces to nonprofits. It was hard to say no to paying work and focus all my energy on a different type of business. But a few months in, the jobs started rolling in. I’ve never regretted giving myself the time and permission to make this business work. “
It is no wonder why Crystal has been invited many times to participate in forums and webinars to help other expat women figure out how to make their careers work. With such wealth of knowledge and broad experience, it is only natural that we ask her what her advice is to those creative entrepreneurs living the nomadic lifestyle on how to pursue their passions. This is what she says:
“My best advice to other creative entrepreneurs is that you cannot do this alone. You need one or two friends who support and understand you in your endeavors. It’s unlikely that many of your friends, family, or even spouse or partner can understand what it’s like for you in this process. So find another expat who is trying to build something and create a support system for each other. Have coffees, discuss your challenges, set goals and deadlines and keep each other accountable. It’s important that we don’t feel alone and isolated in this process. You will find that progress moves much more quickly when you have this type of system in place. “
And it is thanks to women like Crystal that won’t quit, won’t stop learning and won’t settle for projects and values that do not represent who they are that we think pursuing a creative business with heart and soul is not only possible but mandatory to find happiness in a lifestyle that is often times uncertain and challenging.
Crystaline is currently living in Johannesburg, South Africa. When she is not busy creating, she enjoys having deep, meaningful conversations with the people she cares about, preferably in the company of Grace, her small black and white adopted Rwandan cat. Her favorite tea at the moment is rose petal and vanilla black tea, which she says “always taste better when shared with a friend.”
We hope you enjoyed this interview. To connect with Crystal, follow her on Instagram and Facebook. To see her work, please visit crystalinerandazzo.com and ngostorytelling.com To listen to her latest podcast interview, click here.
Thank you for being here!