Many life decisions, especially when it comes to one’s choice of career path, can be pinpointed down to one significant moment. The kind of moment that makes one stop and think, “This is what I want to do – or not do – for the rest of my life.”
For Hattiesburg native Kate Dearman, that moment came in the midst of the chaos and destruction left behind by the EF-4 tornado that tore through the Pine Belt in 2013.
Dearman was a student at The University of Southern Mississippi at the time, pursuing degrees in public relations and photojournalism, with a minor in communications studies.
In the wake of the storm, she recalls wandering around the storm-battered city with her camera, unsure of where to even start. Taking in the destruction through the lens of her camera, Dearman then returned about a month later to help with cleanup with a church group and zeroed in on a woman mourning, as much of her life was spread out in the streets before her in the form of all the material possessions she had collected through the years.
Dearman felt uncomfortable approaching the woman, especially to take a photograph of her.
“She was sitting on a rocking chair, with the remains of her house or what little they were able to recover from the wreckage sitting next to her,” she said. “There was a family portrait sitting next to her. So, I walked up and put my camera behind my back, not hiding it, but it can be intimidating when you walk up to people with a huge camera.”
However, as she wandered up to the woman and began talking with her, Dearman smiles as she remembers their conversation.
“She began telling me her life story and it was really cool,” she said.
Dearman stood there with her talking things out and giving her a moment to vent.
Before leaving, Dearman asked the woman if she could take her photograph, and as the woman began to cry, Dearman wondered if she had made a mistake or said something to upset her.
“I thought I’d really offended her,” she said.
“I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m a dumb 20-year-old, who obviously has no respect.’”
“Then she looked at me, with tears in her eyes and said, ‘No one has ever asked to take my picture before,’” Dearman said. “That was it. That was when I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”
“I got back in my car and just lost it,” she said.
Dearman took a portrait of the woman, and her love of photography – especially portraits – was born.
She still says that she came to photography by accident. The encounter with the
woman after the tornado was just what solidified her decision.
“I went through my entire high school career thinking I was going to major in music,” she said. “But then I got to freshman orientation and realized I was going to have 20 hours on paper before even factoring in rehearsal time.”
Dearman said she was already realizing that music was not something she wanted
to pursue for the rest of her life. With that doubt already circling in her mind, she
changed her major, which she would go on to do about six other times before declaring public relations as her major.
She decided originally to give photography a try as more of a hobby than a career choice, drawing inspiration from a girl she saw on Facebook.
“That was literally my inspiration for buying my first DSLR,” she said.
“I thought I’d try photography for a while,” Dearman added. “I think my parents thought I was crazy.”
Her work was something she kept to herself, as she was still unsure in her ability. Her confidence in her work and her decision to study photography came later. She decided to take a photography class with a friend. After turning in her first round of negatives, just three weeks into the semester, her professor looked at her and said, “You’re going to do this for the rest of your life.”
And here she is.
Dearman said the encounter with her professor is what helped push her out of her shell, but she would not go on to publicize much of her work until the next fall.
“I wasn’t into the whole putting myself out there thing, and I was still very much in my shell,” she said. “I used being shy or unsure of my work to not publish much of my work for a long time.”
By the following spring, Dearman had a full calendar for the summer filled with bookings for weddings and other photo shoots.
With this under her belt, she began work for local bands like the Devil Music Co. and Oh, Jeremiah. Her work with these bands eventually led to her internship with Toby Barker on his campaign for the House of Representatives.
“We started doing commercials and getting heavy into video stuff and it just kind of spiraled from there,” she said.
Dearman is a freelance photographer, traveling all over the country to take on projects for many companies, shoot weddings, serve as videographer and photographer for political campaigns and makes her life somewhere along the way in the many airports she spends so much time in.
“If you ever need advice on where to book a connecting flight, I’m your girl,” Dearman joked. “I spend a lot of time in airports and can probably tell you the best ones.”
Much of her career is tied to Nashville and Hattiesburg, so Dearman spends a great deal of time traveling between the two and splitting her time up among various projects.
“I have to plan my work days out,” Dearman said. “If I’m going to be editing
video one day, I block out several hours just to edit video instead of putting it down to do something else and then come back to it.”
This strict schedule is one of the many ways that Dearman keeps organized and manages all of her various projects.
“I laugh because I’m a really big planner, but most of the things that I try to really plan out seem to (not work out),” she said. “But as long as I let things happen and prepare myself to be at my best then things usually work out.”
Part of her time is spent working on Barker’s campaign for mayor of Hattiesburg. She serves as his videographer and photographer.
What drives her lies much deeper than her love of photography, but is tied more to her love of telling others’ stories through her photographs. She said she continues to do what she does partly because of a dark point in her past that she uses for a positive outcome.
For that, residents of the Pine Belt have named her Best Photographer in 2017 voting.
“Yeah, it started out as a whim, but what has turned it into something that has taken over my life is that I had an eating disorder in high school, and my camera has been a tool for me to show other women they are beautiful,” she said.
One thing that Dearman said she has learned through the years is that every photographer is different and each has his or her own style. She describes her style as “dark.”
“You have to find your style, but you have to grow into your confidence in your style,” Dearman said.
Dearman is a 2011 graduate of Presbyterian Christian High School. She also earned her bachelor’s degree at The University of Southern Mississippi, where she doublemajored in public relations and photojournalism with a minor in communications studies.