One scroll through her Facebook page would melt the hardest of hearts. CASSANDRA ENGLISH is not only an established “photographer of tiny humans” in New Zealand, but she’s recognised internationally for her newborn shoots. KINETA BOOKER chats with Christchurch-based mum of two Cass from Hazel&Cass.
You weren’t always a full-time photographer. Tell us about your life before becoming a mum and what led you to start your own photography business.
I never sought to be a photographer –photography found me. In fact I failed photography at university and was advised to major in a different area of visual communication. In my previous careers, I was an advertising creative intern, singer, trumpet tutor, lawnmower mechanic, medical receptionist, events manager, restaurant manager, graphic designer in medical and central government. I even found time to start a cake business, which came crumbling down as fast as I could ice the cupcakes – thank you Christchurch earthquakes!
Almost five years of my life, I dedicated to studying and working in graphic design. And another three muddling around trying to find myself.
Then, in my mid-twenties, I met my man, and we had our first baby, Hazel. I was dreading going back to my current job as a graphic designer, and I was besotted with Hazel. I craved to document every moment and every milestone of her first few months. I knew nothing about photography then, but just took photo after photo. After four months of maternity leave, I went back to my job full time. I dropped Hazel to day-care at 8am until 6pm. To get through the long days, I would stare at her photos. She became a constant reminder and inspiration for the infinite possibilities of the life I could create for us. I knew that something needed to change in my work life.
After a bad day at work, I decided to do something about my career. I whipped up a logo, made a Facebook page, and ‘Hazel&Cass’ was born. That night I went home and told my family, “I started a newborn photography business”. Everyone just laughed, and I could hear them thinking, “Ok, here goes another one of Cass’s wild adventures”. That night I was ecstatic to take in my first few bookings. There was just one problem: I didn’t own a professional camera, nor did I know how to use one. So, I bought one the next day during my lunch break, and spent my nights studying, practising, and eventually reigniting a creative fire in myself that I hadn’t realised had gone out.
How different is life now that you’re a parent of six-year-old Hazel and three-year-old George?
It’s so much more beautiful, messy, honest, loud, emotional, and loving than I ever thought possible. I wake each day, knowing that they’ll always find new ways to surprise me and fill my heart that little bit more.
How do you fit your very busy photography studio work into your busy work and home life?
My supportive family. Mum is constantly getting last-minute calls to pick my kids up. I often feel like I am barely holding it together, so I take it a day at a time.
I get my evenings with the kids where it’s ‘tools down’ and my time is devoted to them until they are in bed. When they are asleep, I am back to work until late.
You’re known internationally for your newborn shoots, especially of the triplets and quadruplets. Tell us about your favourite type of photography sessions.
I love creating warm, timeless documents of newborns. It is the fluffy shoulders to those tiny little toes that melt me. I love creating portraits for my clients that not only preserve what their newborn looks like but also reminds them of what they felt like to hold in their arms, what they sounded like and what they smelt like. Forever bottling up that feeling of new love, so they never forget.
The thing you enjoy most about everyday life with your little family?
Our quiet, cuddly moments on the couch together.
What surprised you most when you became a parent?
How much of your own childhood you will relive through them. All those little things they say, and the way they view the world, unearth so many forgotten memories from the past.
What’s your top parenting tip?
One of the perks of my jobs is meeting all these amazing mothers each week. I often talk with , them about how they feel about parenting. The answer is almost always the same: “I think it’s going ok?”, they say with doubt. I completely understand. Because inside, I still have this underlying fear I’m not doing it right either. This parenting thing is hard. Ridiculously hard. Just when you think you have a hang of it, they change it up again. And the truth is, I’m not sure anyone ever is ‘doing it right’ or has any idea what that even is. As a parent, we have to put one foot in front of the other, each and every day. Because it’s the only thing you know how to do. There is no ‘right’. No instruction manual. Just steps. If I am ever in doubt, just look at those tiny faces. There may be no right way to do this. But you are as close to right as you can get.