[EDITOR'S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]
YOUNGSTOWN — Little Blackbird Photo specializes in nontraditional live music and portrait photography in the Youngstown, Akron, Canton, Cleveland and Pittsburgh areas.
Most recently, Mollie Crowe, owner of Little Blackbird Photo, has made her home at Westside Bowl as the venue’s house photographer.
“I had built a solid relationship with [Westside Bowl owner] Nate [Offerdahl] and the rest of the crew at Westside Bowl, and it was just kind of one of those things where, ‘Hey, we really like your pictures — would you consider being our house photographer?' “I grew up listening to a lot of punk and emo music, so it just kind of felt like it was the right place for me and it was a really good opportunity, and I honestly would not be where I am right now if it weren't for Westside Bowl.”
Crowe said Little Blackbird Photo’s “dark and gritty” style is heavily influenced by analog film and late 1960s to early 1970s rock photography.
“I love the grungy and moodiness of those photos, and how they documented moments as they actually happened,” she said.
“I like seeing things looking a little bit more realistic, especially like when I photograph at Westside Bowl. It's kind of like an underground punk club. So you kind of want to capture that essence with music,” she added.
Westside Bowl hired Crowe in February of this year, just a month before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the live music and events industry. Although the pandemic initially slowed down her momentum, Crowe said she’s been able to find some positives of photographing during the pandemic.
“Once Westside [Bowl] was able to get livestream concerts approved, it was the silver lining that was like, OK, this is time for me to actually get photos that I know I'm going to be proud of,” she said.
“One of the struggles with live music photography is that oftentimes you're limited before you can stand to take the photo. So you might not be able to get super close or different angles, and it can feel kind of stale. But with the livestreams, I kind of can move around and go everywhere and I've been able to try different things, and I feel like my creativity is boosted because of it,” she added.
According to Crowe, Westside Bowl now has a newly installed photo gallery featuring snapshots of music performances at the venue.
“I would not be in the place I am right now if Nate and Westside Bowl did not give me this opportunity, and it's very humbling in a lot of ways for me,” she said.
Additionally, Crowe has photographed mainstream artists such as Blake Shelton, Rob Thomas, Kacey Musgraves and Ruston Kelly.
Crowe was initially drawn to photography in high school. In 2005, she decided to center her focus on live music photography.
During her time at Youngstown State University, Crowe photographed concerts for Penguin Productions, a student-run organization that plans live music events, and that’s when Little Blackbird Photo was officially born.
“When I was younger, I started photographing local bands, and I remember someone telling me back then that I had a moving eye. I didn't understand what that meant back then, but then the more I was into it, the more I learned about it. It's something unique for any kind of live action photography. But for me, music is such a big part of my life that it kind of makes sense to marry the two,” she said.
Even the name Little Blackbird Photo has musical meaning to Crowe.
“My freshman year of high school, I was given the nickname Little Crowe by my older brother's friends. Rather than call myself Little Crowe Photo, I opted to pay homage to The Beatles song ‘Blackbird.’ That song holds a lot of meaning to me and is one of my biggest inspirations,” she said.
Crowe told Mahoning Matters that although she’d like to pursue photography full time, those aspirations have been put on a “standstill” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to operating Little Blackbird Photo, she works full time at FortyTWO Event Production, an event management company in Boardman, which Crowe said has helped her strengthen her photography skills.
“Working in event production has really helped me because I get to see behind the scenes, you know, the stage plots and the lighting plots, so I got to learn the technical end of things, which I brought that into my photography,” she said.
Crowe hopes to see continuous personal and professional growth within Little Blackbird Photo.
“When I made the decision to go into this, I told myself, ‘I'm doing this for me. Not many people are gonna like it. Some people aren't going to appreciate it, and it might not always make me a lot of money. But for me, I'm doing it because I want to,’” she said. “I'm creating art that I'm proud of and I'm doing something I enjoy, so as long as I can keep doing that, I’ll be happy.”