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In Pursuit of Passion: Kate T. Parker

Few coffee table books can sustain a reader’s interest for the duration of a cross country flight. Then again, Strong is the New Pretty isn’t your average coffee table book. On a recent flight from Los Angeles to Boston, I found myself captivated for hours by the striking photography and charmed by the brave and vulnerable quotes from the girls featured on each page. The fierceness of the girl on the cover, suited up in a swim cap and goggles, a determined glint in her eye, while mesmerizing, is only the tip of the iceberg. Kate T. Parker, author and photographer of Strong is the New Pretty, set out to capture girls of various ages being themselves, in all the glory that comes with being fully present in a moment of movement, strength, or daring. In Strong is the New Pretty, Parker sweeps the table of cultural gender expectations clear, leaving a blank slate on which girls of all ages can build a new foundation of what it means to be a girl.   

The book first begs to be raced through in a frenzy of discovery, then examined intently page by page. Parker, professional photographer, wife and mother, and former collegiate athlete, found herself drawn to the images she shot of her two daughters and their friends when they were messy, silly, stubborn, and decidedly un-posed. From those first few private images was born a project that culminated in the book, which was released in March. From there, thanks to Parker’s breathtaking photography, the project evolved into a movement. To women and girls tired of having their worth measured only by physical beauty, Parker offered a defiant rallying cry: strong is the new pretty.

Q: Will you tell us a little about yourself?
A: I am a photographer who resides in Atlanta, Georgia with my family that includes my husband, two girls (12, 9) and our golden retriever.  I shoot commercially for clients like Disney, REI, American Express among others as well as shooting projects that move me personally.  I love that I get to do both.

Q: As a professional photographer, you’ve hit the shutter release so often it’s become an extension of your hand, but when/how did you get into photography? What was it that drew you to photography as a method of communication?
A: I started shooting when my kids were born.  I loved that I was able to create, relive and keep fleeting moments alive.  I loved that I could capture the day to day moments,  not necessarily the highlights, but rather what was real about our lives.

Q: Your book, Strong is the New Pretty, was released in the spring to rave reviews, but before that, it was a personal project. What was the image/idea that sparked the project?
A: I was actually getting ready for a gallery show and culling from thousands of images to find the most compelling 20. As soon as I had my 20 I realized that the strongest images, the ones that resonated most with me, the ones that told a story were the ones that the girls were being themselves 100%, dirty, silly, fearless, not necessarily smiling for the camera or having their hair done (or brushed) or doing or being anything or anyone other than who they are.  I wanted my girls to know that was enough.  They were beautiful and powerful just as they were.

Q: Your images of girls being brave or strong are gorgeous and deeply touching. In the cultural climate we live in, do you think girls simply being themselves is an act of strength and bravery, no matter how strong they may or may not be?
A: Yes, I think that being yourself and being unafraid of who that is and showing the world is one of the bravest things you can do.  And I fully encourage all of us to do it!

Q: The girls featured in the book are amazing - how did you come to know and shoot each of them?
A: They are!  I was so hopeful after meeting and shooting almost 200 girls from all over the country.  I found them mostly through social media!  I’d reach out or they’d reach out to me and I would do my best to photograph as many girls as I could.

Q: Even at a young age, most girls have been instructed to smile, especially when there’s a camera present. How much work did you have to do with the girls to capture authentic images of them being themselves?
A: I was lucky.  I got to photograph these girls generally doing the thing or things that they were the most passionate about which meant they were confident, comfortable and amazing!

Q: What opportunities have come out of the Strong is the New Pretty project for you? Will there be a next iteration or a second book?
A: I have had really amazing opportunities to speak to girls around the country on my book tour.  That was really the most wonderful gift of all of this.  Sharing and spreading this message to the girls that need to hear it most.

Q: What has the most empowering/gratifying feedback you’ve gotten since the book was published?
A: Recently, I had a girl come up to me at one of my talks and ask how you pronounce the name of one of the girls in the book.  She had read the book so many times and had memorized all the girls and their quotes!  And it was bothering her that she didn’t know how to say this one girls’ name.  I remembered doing this as a kid with books I’d loved, but this really struck me that “Strong is the New Pretty” was this book for her.

Q: As an athlete yourself, how did the “pretty” narrative weave into your upbringing and self image?
A: My parents, thankfully, never put a premium on looks.  It was more about how hard you worked, how we treated people, etc., things you could control.  It really shaped the person that I am and I am so grateful for that.

Q: Your photos, both for this series and your commercial work, are often used in digital campaigns. Do you think there’s a way to make the digital sphere, especially social media, more empowering to young girls and women?
A: It is so necessary especially in this age of filtered, photoshopped everything.  We need some reality in digital media and especially in what our girls consume.  We need to be able to show them how real girls and women look, act and feel.

Q: Both Eleanor and Sofia Coppola are strong women pursuing their passion for telling the stories of women through filmmaking. If you had a signature wine made in your honor, as both Eleanor and Sofia do, what would it be?   
A: I am a huge fan of both of them!  Hmm…my signature wine would be strong (ha!) with a kick.