DENVER AND ATLANTA VIA PHONE—Atlanta-based photographer Kate T. Parker is a force of nature. The self-described mom, wife, photographer and Ironman is challenging advertising and media norms, and redefining what pretty means for girls and women one image at a time in her project-turned-book “Strong Is the New Pretty.” What began as simply taking photos of her two daughters and honing her craft has turned into something with a large following (over 31,000 on Instagram alone). “It started really small for me,” said Ms. Parker, describing her book (due out March 7) and her career as a commercial photographer. She began with the desire to let her girls know that they are beautiful just as they are. It meant capturing the moments when her girls were most themselves—including the loud, wild, messy, tough, silly, vulnerable and real. “I wanted to shoot them as they were,” said Ms. Parker, “because [of] the stuff I was seeing in photography, in the media, in magazines–girls and women were not represented that way.” Ms. Parker, a former collegiate soccer player who left a career in advertising to raise her girls and pursue photography, set about the formidable task of expanding what it means for girls to be pretty and strong. EXCERPTS:
PARKER: I would shoot every day because I’m a photographer, just trying to get better as a photographer, and I noticed that the images that were the strongest and the most meaningful to me were the ones where the girls were just being themselves. They were not smiling at the camera. They didn’t put special clothes on to get pictures. Their hair was not brushed. They were wild and running around–full of energy and full of life.
How do you capture and tell so much in one image?
When I’m shooting my own girls it’s unfair. I have 24-hour access to these girls so I can grab the moments that are beautiful, the light looks good–they’re easy to shoot. But when I’m meeting a girl and I have 10 minutes to shoot her and she doesn’t know me and I don’t know her I talk to her [first]. For this book, I would get to shoot the girls doing the things that they most love whether it’s playing an instrument or playing a sport or doing science experiments. Having a curiosity about who they are and what they’re doing, it really comes across in the images.
What made you want to put your book together?
I just really felt that there were not enough strong representations of girls and women in the media. It started as wanting my girls to know that they’re most beautiful when they are not changing themselves to fit any stereotypes, not fixing something they think is wrong about themselves.
It is a juggling act. We place a priority on our family time but it’s difficult sometimes to find a balance. The great thing is that when I’m not traveling for shooting, I’m home. I get to drive them to school, I get to coach their soccer teams. [But] like any other mom, some days it’s skewed toward more family time and some days and weeks it’s skewed toward work. I just want my girls and family to know that they’re the number one priority. The house isn’t clean. I don’t have dinner on the table every night but I just have to let go of that.
You have worked on a number of big projects, including recently the Women’s March on Washington. Any specific highlights?
Honestly, one of my favorite shoots ever was the one I got to do for Girls on the Run [a U.S. non-profit that promotes a healthy lifestyle for girls through exercise]. I have an advertising background and I think because it was a non-profit and they don’t have an ad agency I had the opportunity to write the copy and concept the idea and do everything from start to finish. I just loved how it turned out. I feel the message is very strong and my girls have run with Girls on the Run. Unless it’s a personal project like my book, it’s such a rare opportunity to have so much creative control.
I felt like I needed to give back. Basically, the goal of philanthropy with “Strong Is the New Pretty” is to foster girls’ confidence through athletics. So I donate campaigns, images and scholarship money to nonprofit organizations that [nurture] that same message [of empowering girls] like Girls on the Run.
Now that “Strong is the New Pretty” is about to come out, what do you have on the horizon?
I have the book tour next, which is daunting. But after that, I hope to have the opportunity to have more to do with “Strong Is the New Pretty.” It would be amazing to do a documentary or some videos related to it. I have another project called “American Family” that showcases different iterations of what family is. I’d love the opportunity to continue to shoot projects that move me, that shed light on something that really is not getting the light it should have.
All images ©Kate T. Parker Photography