“ Do you really want to know how I organize the day care for my children? Because it’s quite complex.”
Then she laughs. Natalie and I are drinking a coffee in a fancy hotel bar in Zurich. After a quick exchange about some details of an upcoming event we are organizing, I ask one of the most pressing questions on any working parent’s mind – child care. It truly is a massive event for all working families in Switzerland.
Natalie von Harscher is a photographer who works week days weekends, evenings , going up and down the Zurich region for photo shoots… not really the best conditions to raise three children between 5 and 11 you would have thought.
“Ah yes, it is complicated. I have one at kindergarden, two at school, then day care, then other moms helping out… I used to have an Au-Pair… “ and she goes on with the details. Indeed, it sounds like a very complex organization. But seems to work well so far.
Natalie defines herself as a workaholic, natural networker with remarkable organizational skills and a fine sense for customer service. I do not disagree with that. I will add that for someone who is so well organized, she is very creative and her artistic touch can be seeing in her pictures. Despite having known her for some time now, during this interview I discover that she used to be a singer, she got a diploma as foreign language secretary, studied marketing, and in different moments of her working life she has been a personal assistant, a sales person, marketing manager, event coordinator,… I quickly realize a major common point of her working life: she likes to work with people and make them satisfied. So when did the passion for photography start?
“At the beginning it was a hobby but then I realized I really enjoyed making portraits. I discovered that I could have an impact on people’s personal branding thanks to my marketing background. I like to bring out the best in people and put that into a picture. Having already enough experience with photo editing, so it was kind of easy, but it was only three years ago I decided to follow my passion and become a photographer.”
Natalie already had her three children at that time, so she hired an Au-pair to help with the family organization. Of course, this would not be possible without the full support of her husband, who happens to be a good photographer as well (but this is not what he is doing for a living). Together they decide to run the business of the Fotobox, which is basically a parallel business activity of her photography business.
She tells me that in spring last year they decided to let go of the Au-pair. This pushed Natalie to make all the arrangements with daycare and other moms. But what she is missing the most is time for herself and her husband.
“Last year was an intense year for my business and I did not find enough time for me or for my husband. But the business was running and I had to keep it tight. And I love my job, because it is my passion so I don’t feel like my job is an obligation. The problem is that taking the actual photos is only about 20% of the actual job. There is the preparation, the editing, the traveling, the printing, administration… well, a lot of additional activities that are not always interesting, but have to be done.”
And how do her children react to the fact that she is so busy?
“They know I´m like that. I´m their mom in the evening, Wednesday afternoons and during the weekend. I´m raising them to be independent and to do their stuff alone as well. But without an Au-pair it is very difficult. I’m not that flexible anymore. The Swiss child care and school system do not help working moms like me. Nor is it flexible yet it is expensive. Anyway, I’m determined to make it work so I have found my own solutions.”
And for Natalie there is yet another dimension to her challenges as she lives in the countryside close to Zug, where childcare options are reduced compared to more urban areas. Her determination to work pushed her to organize her family life to allow her to follow her dream as a photographer. She also understands the importance of a professional network to increase her visibility and develop her business, so she is ready to sacrifice some family time for it. In the current society, if she were a man, that would be completely normal. But as a woman it is tough and sometimes she is judged for her life style choices.
“But what can you do? It is my life, I have to live it.” she says smiling.
While working with her for my professional portrait and for PWG events, I have realized how much she cares about other people’s needs. Not only does she want to do a good job, but she also wants people to be complete satisfied with it. All this comes with an incredible attention to detail and a familiar way of doing her shoots. Passion for her work is undeniable.
Our coffee time comes to an end because she has to run to a photo shoot and I have to run to my family. We leave the bar in a rush, realizing at the last minute that we forgot to discuss some other details for the next event… as usual, we will follow up our discussion one evening after our kids are in bed.