Kate T Parker
Posted on February 14 2018
This week, we caught up with professional photographer Kate T. Parker - a former collegiate soccer player and Ironwoman - who shoots both fine-art projects and commercial work. She has two daughters who inspired her photo series and subsequent book - Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves - which highlights girls being their confident selves and celebrates their strength. It was a huge success (if you look at the recent Spice Girls reunion pics, you'll see several copies on the table) and has since led to collaborations with brands like Athleta, Kellogg's, and Oxygen. and also inspired Kate to launch a philanthropic arm, partnering with organizations like Girls on the Run and The Bully Project that invests in girls' health and education. When she's not photographing, Kate can be found coaching her daughters' soccer teams. Here's her story:
Newnham: What were you like as a kid? How would your family and friends have described you?
Parker: I was a pretty intense kid. Really focused on soccer, school or whatever I did. I was the youngest of four kids and really pushed myself since I think I was always felt way behind my older siblings. I just wanted to catch up.
Newnham: What did you want to do when you were older - what career aspirations did you have and what inspired that path?
Parker: When I was younger, my goal was to work in TV. I majored in communications, had internships at Geraldo (yes!), Nickelodeon and got my first job out of college working at CNN. I loved it. I moved on working as a producer at an ad agency and really enjoyed that. I loved the task of creating something compelling on a screen. I really feel like what I do today with photography was so influenced by my TV/video background. It’s the same thing. Making something in a frame compelling and beautiful to look at.
Newnham: Can you tell us more about your career to date? What do you do now and what are some of the jobs which led there?
Parker: When I had my first daughter 12 years ago, I wasn’t ready to go back full time to the hours and unpredictability of producing. However, I really needed and wanted a creative outlet. Like most new moms, I started taking a lot of pictures of my new perfect baby. :) But, after years of working with art directors and creative directors my taste level was pretty high. My talent level as a photographer? Not so much! So, I just worked really hard at getting better as a photographer. I wanted to be proud of the images I shot. There was no other, larger, goal in mind besides getting better. I just wanted to like the images I took.
So I shot all the time. Every day. And edited images every day. I still do. It forces you to be creative in a box of your daily life and that really challenges you, which I love.
Newnham: We are HUGE fans of Strong is the New Pretty. What led to you working on this project and the subsequent book? Why is it important to you?
Parker: Thank you! Like I said I shoot all the time. I was asked to be a part of a gallery show here in Atlanta and to present my twenty best images. After culling from THOUSANDS, I found the 20 strongest were the ones that showed my girls for who they really were... fearless, strong, emotional, oftentimes dirty, unbrushed hair and not necessarily smiling for the camera. I wanted my girls to know that that was enough. I didn’t want them to think they needed to be, or to act, like anyone else in order to be loved or celebrated.
So, I started shooting more intentionally with that in mind. And that gallery show, was a total failure. I didn’t sell a single image. At first, I was disappointed, and then I got mad. I thought there was still something worthy and important about the idea behind those images. So, I sent a few to some blogs I followed and it exploded. The images and message went viral and were seen and shared millions of times. I was equal parts completely freaked out and so thankful I wasn’t the only one that thought girls needed to hear the message that who they truly are is enough. The idea of creating a book out of the images was such a dream come true and I took the opportunity to expand the definition of strength from my girls and their friends to all kinds of girls and all kinds of strength. I spent two years shooting over 200 girls from all over the country.
Newnham: What does GIRL POWER mean to you?
Parker: It means being unafraid to be who you truly are. Unafraid to speak up and speak out. Unafraid to embrace your weirdness. To show emotion. To choose a different path.
Newnham: If you could go back in time, what advice - if any - would you offer a younger Kate?
Parker: Not to worry so much about doing what is expected. That being yourself is so much better than being expected.
Newnham: What's next for you?
Parker: I am currently working on three new Strong books. Shooting and writing a Strong is the New Pretty guided journal for girls, a book very similar to Strong is the New Pretty, but this time for boys, about celebrating all the different kinds of boys and how boyhood can look and feel. And, finally, a book about Courage in girls and women. I also shoot commercial work and am so thankful and excited to be shooting for clients and companies that I believe in.
All images by Kate T Parker