For Woke Wednesday, we sat down with Cincinnati LGBTQ+ photographer Cassandra Zetta to discuss her own experience getting married before same sex marriage was legalized and how she intentionally serves her community through her art.
Liz: Can you tell us a bit about your background? What was growing up like for you?
Cassandra: I grew up in small town suburbia, right outside of Cincinnati. I attended public school and spent most of my free time creating art or on the softball field (I played competitive fastpitch for most of my youth and traveled weekly for tournaments). I prioritized academics, and my busy softball schedule left little time for friends or otherwise. I then went onto a small liberal arts college where I majored in graphic design and later fell in love with photography.
Liz: What was your transition into adulthood like?
Cassandra: During my sophomore year of college, at age 19, I moved into an apartment with my now husband, which catapulted us into adulthood rather quickly. I worked full-time and attended school full-time. After graduating a couple of years later, I transitioned into corporate America for a position in my field, and began moving up the proverbial ladder.
Liz: How was corporate life for you?
Cassandra: At first, I was elated. Being raised in a working class family, corporate America provided a seemingly great choice for success. I was also grateful simply to have a career opportunity in my field — something many other graduates weren't able to obtain due to high competition. Although, I quickly began to learn that the corporate lifestyle of endless hours and the work-prioritizes-life mindset did not align with my dreams, goals, and personal wellbeing.
Liz: Were you shooting photography while working?
Cassandra: Yes, I began photography roughly a year out of college. Even though I landed a great gig in my field, it was not that creative position I'd hoped for. And so, I discovered photography — specifically wedding photography, and poured my heart into it every moment I could, because it was the only work that fulfilled me — which is something I value deeply.
Liz: Absolutely. And today you are a full-time wedding photographer. What was that journey like?
Cassandra: It was amazing, exhausting, exhilarating, long — and I suppose to put it simply, it was like a rollercoaster ride. I fell head over heels in love with photography in 2010. Every evening and weekend, I researched, self-taught, took online classes, photographed sessions, and began second shooting for anyone who'd let me tag along. Most of my free time was wrapped up in this new hobby, and I dreamt of it turning into my full-time profession. However, I never believed I'd ever be an entrepreneur, and so this newfound dream felt intangible and obscure. However, I kept going. Two years after I discovered my love of photography, I officially opened my business with the advice and help of family and friends, and I decided I was going to make it happen, no matter what it took. A year and half later, I attended my first photography conference, which was a pivotal decision for me. It was scary, big, and expensive for someone who wasn't quite profitable, but it introduced me to an amazing community of photographers, an invaluable education, and inspiration that led me to quit my full-time corporate job just two months later. I have now been a full-time photographer for over three years, which has continued to be a lot of hard work, but 100% worth it.
Liz: Wow, that's amazing. So what does your business look like today?
Cassandra: Today, my business is one that I am very proud of. I am still growing, as I hope to forever do as an entrepreneur, but I have a full schedule of weddings, elopements and sessions, and for that I am so grateful.
In addition, I work with the most amazing and inspirational ideal couples who fill me with incredible amounts of joy, and I'm thankful that I get to live this dream while sharing in the honor of photographing their lives and stories.
I also transitioned into documenting primarily LGBTQ weddings.
Liz: Yes, I would love to hear about that!
Cassandra: June 2012 was momentous for me personally, as I got married and officially started my business in that same month. Planning a same-sex wedding prior to marriage equality, while it was mostly wonderful for us, still stirred up emotions that should never be associated with such an exciting experience. We dealt with anxiety, nervousness, and worry about how vendors would treat us. With every email sent, the question "Are you comfortable working with a same-sex couple?" was included so that there weren't any uncomfortable surprises later. A bit of our joy was stolen from us simple because of who we were. For these reasons, I realized it was imperative to effect change in the wedding industry, and I knew I could make a difference with photography. And so, I overhauled my business in the fall of 2013 to refocus on LGBTQ+ weddings and elopements. The work I am doing now fills my heart and soul in a way I never could have imagined possible. Being able to share my passion and mission, while having life experiences that allow for a true understanding of those in the community, while inviting them to love openly and honestly, is a gift that I am honored and privileged to give.
Liz: I love that. So today is Woke Wednesday. Do you consider yourself woke, feminist, or otherwise a social justice advocate?
Cassandra: Indeed, yes. As a longtime feminist, identifying as queer, in an interracial marriage with my trans husband, while working so diligently to create a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community in the wedding industry, I absolutely consider myself a social justice advocate.
Liz: And how do you incorporate your values into your photography business?
Cassandra: I have intertwined my personal story into my photography business since the overhaul, allowing my values, beliefs, and ideals to openly come through in my content, copy, and imagery. I have openly shared our coming out and love stories, and again when my husband came out as trans. Inclusive copy and content have been part of my business since the beginning, and I love representing folks of all backgrounds and experiences in my work. I most recently wrote an educational blog series for other wedding photographers and vendors alike on working with the LGBTQ+ community (re: using inclusive copy and content, gender and pronouns, and posing), because it is a mission of mine to make the wedding industry fully inclusive.
Liz: I love the level of thoughtfulness you have put into your business and brand. Do you have any closing remarks for others making their way in the wedding industry?
Cassandra: Thank you! For others making their way in the wedding industry, the best thing I've done, and my top tip, is to share your heart and story. Vulnerability is connection and connection is invaluable.
Liz: Amazing advice. Thank you, Cassandra.