PRE­CIOUS PICTURES

New Zealand D-Photo - - HOW TO | CASS ENGLISH - See more of Cass’ new­born, baby, and child

Christchurch-based pho­tog­ra­pher Cass English cre­ates warm time­less doc­u­ments of the many lit­tle lives that are bun­dled through her stu­dio doors. Hav­ing pho­tographed about 300 new­borns in the three years that she’s been work­ing as a pho­tog­ra­pher, she ex­plains that, with sub­jects so spe­cial, it’s al­ways safety first

We hu­mans like to think of our­selves as fixed, de­fined in­di­vid­u­als, but, the truth is, from cra­dle to grave, our per­son­hood is in a con­tin­ual state of change. At no point is this more ev­i­dent than dur­ing the first few weeks in the life of a new­born — eyes, ears, nose, head shape, hair, skin colour, and weight can change dras­ti­cally from day to day. It is the priv­i­lege of the pho­tog­ra­pher of the new­born to freeze a sec­ond in this rush­ing tor­rent of de­vel­op­ment, pre­serv­ing a unique mo­ment in a new life that will never be the same again. Cass English is a Christchurch-based pho­tog­ra­pher who takes that charge very se­ri­ously and rel­ishes the op­por­tu­nity to pro­duce warm, time­less doc­u­ments of the many new lives that come through her stu­dio doors. Hav­ing started her busi­ness, Hazel and Cass, just three years ago, the mother of two has quickly be­come known as one of the coun­try’s lead­ing pho­tog­ra­phers of tiny hu­mans. New-par­ent word of mouth is a po­tent mar­ket­ing tool, and the on­line chat­ter of ex­cited new mums and dads is clear tes­ti­mo­nial to Cass’s clas­si­cally styled new­born photo shoots: clean, sim­ple, or­ganic. “I don’t fol­low fads; I don’t want the photos to feel silly later on; I don’t want any­one look­ing back and feel­ing it’s a joke,” the pho­tog­ra­pher ex­plains. “I don’t do trendy — I’m quite old­fash­ioned, and that suits ba­bies.” When it comes to pho­tog­ra­phy of the early years, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to re­call one of the greats who also hails from our re­gion; Anne Ged­des made an un­de­ni­able im­pact on the land­scape with prop-heavy set-ups that have been widely im­i­tated by new par­ents and am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­phers far and wide. In or­der for Cass to carve out her own dis­tinct niche, the self-taught pho­tog­ra­pher looked in­wards to find her own aes­thetic, ask­ing her­self what she would want in a photo of her own child. The an­swer: “It wasn’t photos in lit­tle ted­dy­bear hats or cater­pil­lar out­fits or any­thing like that. It was just nice, sim­ple, beau­ti­ful, clas­sic. That’s what I fol­low to this day.”

As a re­sult, Cass’ im­ages ra­di­ate an af­fec­tion­ate warmth in gen­tle, nat­u­ral tones. To com­ple­ment this style, an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of wraps, shawls, smocks, head­bands, and bon­nets — usu­ally knit­ted from vin­tage pat­terns — is dis­played on a rack in the stu­dio. “The par­ents come and choose every­thing they like, and I’ll say, ‘Yes, this colour will be re­ally nice’, or ‘Maybe not that colour on your baby’ — if I get a pur­ple baby, I don’t want to put it in pur­ple. The skin tones of new­borns are crazy. They have pink feet, pur­ple tum­mies, some­times they get jaun­dice and are quite or­ange.” Such at­ten­tion to tonal de­tail is un­sur­pris­ing, with Cass com­ing from a graphic-de­sign back­ground, be­fore she made the overnight de­ci­sion to jump into new­born pho­tog­ra­phy — with no prior pho­tog­ra­phy ex­pe­ri­ence. How­ever, de­sign bril­liance counts for naught if a pho­tog­ra­pher can’t ac­com­mo­date and con­nect with the tiny stars of this type of shoot. In this area, Cass’ most valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence is as a mother — ini­tially to Hazel of the busi­ness name, who is three, and now also to Hazel’s one-yearold brother. “I al­ways say that new­born pho­tog­ra­phy is only one per cent click­ing the cam­era; the rest is be­ing able to keep a baby warm and safe and happy for three hours,” Cass states. “If you can’t do that, you won’t get the shots.” In ad­di­tion to her ex­pe­ri­ence in the trenches of moth­er­hood, the pho­tog­ra­pher has stud­ied in­fant com­mu­ni­ca­tion by talk­ing with neona­tal nurses and other care spe­cial­ists, who she has ac­cess to thanks to her mother’s work in the baby ward of a lo­cal hospi­tal. This cul­mi­nates in what can seem like her preter­nat­u­ral abil­ity to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence be­tween a cry of dis­com­fort and a plea for food, or the warn­ing bleat of im­pend­ing gas.

“It’s my job to get to know that baby: what it likes, what it doesn’t like, how its head likes to be turned,” she elab­o­rates. “When ba­bies first come in, I check their head and their hips — be­cause each baby is so dif­fer­ent in the tummy. If I can fig­ure that out, I know the ses­sion will go bet­ter be­cause I can keep the baby com­fort­able.” A big con­trib­u­tor to that com­fort is the idyl­lic stu­dio set-up that Cass has de­vel­oped in her child­hood bed­room of the fam­ily home. Clients ar­rive at the tree-lined sub­ur­ban street; en­ter past the rose-strewn gar­den; and make them­selves com­fort­able in the cozy, car­peted bed­room-turned-stu­dio. As well as be­ing fas­tid­i­ously ster­ile, the room is kept at 29 de­grees and a white-noise ma­chine (or ‘baby shusher’) pipes in the noisy-yet-sooth­ing sound­scape of the womb to help lit­tle vis­i­tors feel safe and com­fort­able for the du­ra­tion of the shoot. “I toss and turn with the idea of get­ting a more com­mer­cial space, but I don’t think [that] it would have the same ap­peal,” the pho­tog­ra­pher de­clares. “I feel as if I am invit­ing them into my space; it’s close to my heart.” You won’t see any quirky, vi­ral-hope­ful im­ages com­ing from Hazel and Cass; no ba­bies dumped in a bowl of gum­balls, propped up on mo­tor­cy­cles, or sus­pended per­ilously over run­ning streams. In­stead, she looks to her lit­tle mod­els to sup­ply more won­der and whimsy than any pho­tog­ra­pher could ask for. Her ul­ti­mate ad­vice for any­one look­ing to make beau­ti­ful photos of their new­born is to sim­ply re­spect their sub­ject and let their baby shine as it was al­ways meant to. “These are the most vul­ner­a­ble lit­tle hu­man be­ings on the planet — they have no say, they can’t con­trol any­thing. It’s up to us to keep them safe,” Cass im­plores.

CANON EOS 6D, SIGMA 50MM F/1.4 DG HSM ART LENS, 50MM, 1/160S, F/2.8, ISO 200

CANON EF 100MM F/2.8L MACRO IS USM LENS, 100MM, 1/125S, F/2.8, ISO 200 CANON EOS 6D, SIGMA 35MM F/1.4 DG HSM ART LENS, 35MM, 1/160S, F/3.2, ISO 320

pho­tog­ra­phy: /haze­land­cass /haze­land­casspho­tog­ra­phy

CANON EOS 6D, SIGMA 50MM F/1.4 DG HSM ART LENS, 50MM, 1/160S, F/3.5, ISO 320

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