Eye of the Child

By Emily Gold / March / April 1999
November 19th, 2007

Of the first three years of Marisa Catalina Casey's life, home was an orphanage in Bogotŕ, Colombia, where she was placed by her Colombian mother and Spanish father. Now nineteen, Casey '01 left the orphanage when she was adopted by the head of a U.S. adoption agency and her husband. "I remember walking into the room with the orphanage director," Casey recalls of that day. "She said to me in Spanish, 'Do you know who these people are?' I said, 'Si. Mommy and Poppy.' I knew exactly what was going on."

Now Casey is out to help today's children who live in orphanages. Co-president of the Brown Photo Club, Casey has used her passion for photography to depict fifteen children who lived in foreign orphanages or foster-care homes until they, too, were adopted by parents in the United States. By compiling the black-and-white photographs into a 1999 wall calendar, she has so far raised about $3,000 for orphanages around the world. "Photojournalism is the intersection between my love for the visual arts and my love for community service," she says.

Casey, a Latin-American studies concentrator whose adoptive family lives in Newton, Massachusetts, took the calendar photographs at a spring picnic for children adopted through The Alliance for Children, the nonprofit adoption agency headed by her mother, Filis. But the calendar is more than a collection of photographs. It includes some of Casey's favorite quotations as well as such unconventional holidays as Happy as a Clam Week and Single Parents Day.

Casey first discovered photography in seventh grade at about the same time she returned for a visit to her old orphanage with her mother, who'd been invited to a building dedication there. Casey remembers flipping through a Time-Life photography book and discovering that pictures can create history. For someone whose own history is largely a mystery, the discovery was particularly poignant. Photography eventually became "a way in which I can kind of express my identity and who I think I am."

On campus, Casey can often been seen taking photographs for the College Hill Independent, where she is a photography editor. Somehow, she also finds time to also serve as darkroom coordinator at the Sarah Doyle Women's Center and was a founder of the Brown/RISD Art Troupe, or BRAT, which brings student art exhibits to campus. In addition, Casey has traveled to Nicaragua to help build a school and has worked in an Ecuadorian orphanage. Next spring, she will spend a semester abroad in Chile. This immersion in things Latin American is a far cry from the years when she re-fused to speak Spanish or acknowledge her Colombian roots. "I wanted to be a new me," Casey says. "I never used my middle name. I hated it." But there are limits to her willingness to explore her past. "People," she says, "always ask me, 'Do you want to find your birth mother?' At this point in my life I would rather keep it a mystery. I would rather not be disappointed."

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March / April 1999