“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.” ― Amy Bloom
Mary Katherine Leslie-Van Hook (MK) has been in New Orleans for over three years. She moved around quite a bit the last few years but after settling into New Orleans, all this creative energy that had been asleep in her boiled over and she finally started pursuing the things she loves; creating beautiful imagery and events. MK currently works as a marketing designer at a women’s boutique based in New Orleans but when she’s not in the office, she is typically shooting portraits (mostly in the realm of boudoir these days), or working events in either a hospitality or coordination capacity. There is a shared piece in both those disciplines of photography and events that requires a keen attention to people; knowing how they’re feeling and understanding the best way to serve them to make a meaningful image or experience. MK really values that human connection part.
How did you end up in New Orleans?
I moved to New Orleans about three years ago after my husband was accepted to LSU-New Orleans School of Medicine. We met at Baylor University and spent a few years in Waco after we graduated. I actually grew up in South Dakota but was raised by parents from Alabama who now live in North Carolina. And I was born in Switzerland. Life is twisty and turny, isn’t it?
What’s your favorite thing about living in The Big Easy?
I’ve never lived somewhere where you can get your hands into so many different things. New Orleans opened my eyes to the world of freelancing and the art of the side hustle. This town is anything but sleepy, so it makes sense its people would be going a million miles a minute (in between catching a parade and enjoying a football game, that is). Here it is so likely that your neighbor owns the coffee shop down the street, has art up in a local gallery, belongs to a krewe, and writes a blog about saving wetlands. That’s so energizing to me.
What kind of marketing work do you do for the boutique?
I’m on the marketing design team at Hemline, a really unique and stylish women’s boutique based in New Orleans. I help design graphics, work with franchisee owners to develop strategy for their stores, analyze social media data and ads, and also get to shoot marketing collateral for the nearly 30 stores we have in the south.
What does a typical week in the life of MK look like?
Normally I spend about four days a week at the Hemline office in the French Quarter. The rest of my week is typically filled with taking pictures for contract jobs (I recently worked with the brand new Royal Frenchmen Hotel to get them imagery for their website and get their Instagram looking sharp) or shooting for personal clients. I’ve been doing quite a few Muse Rebellion (boudoir) shoots lately which have been fun in the mix of headshots, family sessions, and live music gigs. Other days I work with some local groups like the Orpheum Theater and Race & Religious coordinating hospitality or the venue on event days. Catch me on a particularly busy week and I may be working with a bride to plan their wedding. And editing. Lots of photo editing.
It’s a little nutty, but despite the goofy hours, funny flux of money, and the hustle and grind, it’s worth it to me because I get to create connections. I love learning about my clients and finding ways to laugh and connect with them. I love working alongside people in the event industry who come from all over the world because of their passion for music, sports, fashion, style–whatever. There is a lot of soul in these things and that’s what makes me feel full as a person.
Tell us more about your Muse Rebellion project and the feedback this has project received.
A cross between boudoir and lifestyle imagery, Muse Rebellion is a project I started in 2017 after years of wanting to shoot intimate photos with a twist. Our culture so often portrays women as simply timid, sexy, or submissive objects of desire. This session was dreamed of to unveil the profound complexity of women as fierce, dark, and autonomous people who are also compassionate friends, mothers, and lovers. Navigating career, relationships, spirituality, and the like is so intrinsically complicated as a woman; shame is often associated with sensuality, the female form is praised if it fits the standard mold of sexiness yet criticized when it doesn’t meet certain criteria. There are so many mixed messages fed to us that my hope is that this session creates a space where women can confidently celebrate their layers of self.
My clients range from 100% on board to 100% on board PLUS 100% freaked out. The one thing they have in common is getting their images back and feeling this immediate sense of confidence once they see evidence of how f*cking magnificent they (themselves) are. I love these sessions so much because it paves the way for conversations about experiences that have shaped us, frank talks about our bodies, musings about the complexities of being a woman, and why she wanted to do something that feels a little scary. It’s been really meaningful to my clients and also incredibly rewarding for me.
Why should every woman do at least one boudoir photoshoot in her lifetime?
Because women are enchanting. Every single inch of them. And my God, I want them to see it for themselves.
What’s your favorite photo you’ve taken so far and why?
That’s tough. One photo that is very dear to me is this one. It’s so raw, so true to my friend, and so, so beautiful because she is so, so beautiful in her head and in her skin.
One thing you can’t live without?
My Spotify Premium Account is the best investment I make all month. I’m a huge music nerd and love collecting new indie, rock, and rap songs each week and also rediscovering classic rock (thanks to my father) and big band artists (we can thank my mother for that one).
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned working as a photographer and event designer?
If there is something that calls you–something you deeply feel you want to do, just make it happen, dammit. Ask people for help and ask people to trust you. I carried so much self doubt and felt like such an imposter for a long time. It wasn’t until I finally allowed myself to explore these fields and started taking that advice that I exploded with creative energy, and truly started to find myself. I am forever thankful to my dear friends who supported me by modeling for my first nude shoots. I am so grateful for festivals and venues that have entrusted me to take care of their talent. And I’m always blown away when a family allows me to be part of their wedding.
One last piece of advice for networking / meeting people in New Orleans for people who’ve just moved here?
Just talk. I met one of my favorite people in New Orleans on Frenchmen Street when she asked for a cigarette. We hit it off, exchanged numbers, and are now dear friends. Although I’m still in her phone as “Dat Dog Girl,” we’re close enough now that she asked me to shoot her wedding in the spring. New Orleans is so weird and great. I am forever thankful to my dear friends who supported me by modeling for my first boudoir shoots, for festivals and venues that trust me to take care of their guests and talent and am always blown away when a family allows me to be part of their wedding.
To learn more about MK visit her website.