Jessie Casson grew up in North East England "in the middle of nowhere". Her family’s alternative lifestyle was ‘out of the box’ for many at that time. This meant that instead of watching TV and going to the shops, Jessie passed her time riding horses with her friends and drawing on her imagination to get creative.
With a mother as a yoga teacher and a father as an amateur photographer, Jessie’s formative years gave her the confidence to be unique. Without knowing popular culture, Jessie formed pure and original ideas on how to live her life.
After school one day, Jessie found an outdated book on what to do during a gap year. Craving intrepid travel, Jessie and a friend went from finishing high school to travelling to Israel to work on a Kibbutz, then further afield to Australia, then back to France on their way home a year later.
On Jessie’s return to England, she studied photography at the University of Derby. By chance, she met and fell in love with her now husband Matt, and after graduating they moved to London to look for work.
Jessie’s path to a job is somewhat unconventional, and it starts with a renowned photographer named Harry Borden, one of her idols. Jessie briefly met, and had written to Harry on a number of occasions. One day, Harry saw Jessie riding around town on her bicycle in one of her signature stand-out outfits which prompted him to finally reply to Jessie’s letters. As Jessie says, ‘it was one of those magical turning points in life’.
Harry took Jessie on as an apprentice, and her career was thriving at 26 years old. Jessie and Matt got married around this time, and they were determined not to live a boring life, booking a round the world holiday to begin their new adventure as husband and wife.
With Jessie’s camera in tow, she embarked on a personal series of portraits titled The Teenage Project. Spotting young people of interest, she would approach them, ask them 9 questions (recorded on a dictaphone) and take their picture. She focused on this project through North, Central and South America (from Mexico down to Argentina) and then on to New Zealand.
Unbeknown to Jessie and Matt, New Zealand was their last stop of their trip. Having fallen in love with the land of the long white cloud, they bought a $500 van and travelled around. Jessie continued to take photos, and embarked on a new project filming ‘everyday world record holders’, such as Piet Groot (the world record holding coal shovelling champion) and Waka Ama Champion Leanne Haronga, and the like. Jessie’s project went on to be enshrined in a book called Champion: New Zealand Winners, and her documentary was picked up by TV3.
Staying put in New Zealand, Jessie and Matt proudly obtained their New Zealand residency and had their three Kiwi children, Dylan, Otis and Iris.
In 2018, nearly a decade and a half later, The Teenage Project has resulted in another doco, aptly titled What Becomes of Me, Here, Jessie meets her four New Zealand subjects again and – literally dusting off her old camera– retakes their portraits. It’s a moving reflection on how youthful aspirations survive the perilous journey into adulthood. The still images are two side-by-side photographs, encapsulating a then and now moment, taken on the same camera in the same style as back then.
Next year Jessie plans to repeat the process in South America. In September 2019, she will pack up the old camera and along with Matt and the kids, board a plane to Mexico where they will spend four months retracing Jessie and Matt’s 15-year-old steps in search of the 29 teenagers, all now in their 30s. So far, Jessie has tracked down five of them.
Jessie is now known in New Zealand for her distinct dynamic and honest portrait style. Her work, colourful and compelling, appearing in publications around the globe and on the cover of household New Zealand magazines. Her portfolio includes some of NZ’s most well-known faces including Sir Ed, Karen Walker, Anika Moa and Buck Shelford. But famous or not, Jessie believes a portrait is all about authenticity. She is always interested in people’s stories and how she can capture their very essence.
After working out of her basement for many years, Jessie craved connection which led her to The Workshop. She loves being around individuals working away on their own businesses, as everyone is in the same boat. She says there’s a great mix of people, and she loves the bi-weekly yoga and meditation sessions. Jessie also graces The Workshop with her spontaneity, taking us through ‘6 minute ab sessions’ when she fancies, and is game to take our photos at Friday drinks if we ask nicely enough. There was also the time when she brought us her homemade gin, but we’ll leave that story for another day.
We are grateful to have Jessie’s experience, talent and wisdom in our midst.
Written by Identity Coach Justine Jamieson from Lustrecollective.com