Alice Hawkins’ photographic homage to Dolly Parton features perms, feathers and a whole lot of pink

Published by Baron Books, Dear Dolly shows the county legend’s most dedicated fans, featuring perms, feathers and a whole lot of pink.

23 May 2023


There’s one day that photographer Alice Hawkins will never forget: when she bought her first Dolly Parton album. Listening to it while driving through the Rocky Mountains in a banana yellow convertible Mustang, she was blown over by the emotion and storytelling, which became so palpable through the country legends' music and almost “fairytale” life.

This “discipleship” only accelerated when Alice saw Dolly live at Hammersmith Apollo, a tiny, intimate venue compared to the stadiums the singer could easily sell out now. “I left spellbound and I knew I had found my idol,” Alice says. “Dolly’s persona and presence gave me clarity to the notion that you can be radiant, sexy, blonde and almighty all at the same time.” From this point on, Alice’s creative output would never be the same again. An obsession had been born.

The objective of Dear Dolly – her new book published by Baron Books – is fairly simple; to document the deep infatuation and admiration Alice, and many others, have for the singer. Throughout, the book includes images of how the singer has visually influenced the photographer – from outfits to decor, as well as her travels to meet and capture her “fellow Dolly’s”. It’s this sense of ‘everydayness’ in amongst the swarths of hot pink, feathers and diamantes that really makes the book stand out. You'll also see ‘Dollys’ chatting away on suburban buses, or dressed to the nines while doing their child’s hair before school – showing just how deep their love permeates.

GalleryAlice Hawkins: Dear Dolly (Copyright © Alice Hawkins, 2023)

The book also includes scans of her Dolly scrapbook. Made by a lady in Woodstock in the style of an 18th Century Bible, the front reads “Dolly is my religion”, debossed in gold leaf. “If I can stick it, it’s in there; polaroids, tickets to Dolly’s shows, drawings, notes and leaves from Dolly’s front garden. Designed by Suburbia, the book as a whole takes inspiration from Alice’s collection of Dolly’s LP’s, especially those from the 1970s and their iconic curly fonts.

The first photo in the book has deep significance for Alice. It shows the moment she first met Dolly, after being invited backstage by her friend Paloma Faith – “the kind of message you receive when you think your friend’s phone has been hacked,” Alice adds. The photographer gave Dolly some of her prints from a recent project in Nashville. “The next day her manager got in touch and thanked me for giving Dolly the prints and said I looked like a young hot Dolly!”

When photographing the Dolly impersonator Kelly O’Brien, Alice says she had to “pinch herself” with her performance being so convincing, right down to her southern twang. She recalls one humorous encounter with a man in a small village pub. “He was completely convinced that here was the real Dolly Parton sitting there in his local pub. He told Kelly it was an honour to meet her and that he was a huge fan,” Alice says. “Kelly stayed in character and he left in bewildered. We couldn’t burst his bubble.”

But Dear Dolly isn’t entirely lighthearted. As it's so personal to Alice’s life, it also shows the more difficult moments. For instance, one image shows Alice during pregnancy with her twins “laid bare proudly”. Alice describes it as a “terrifying” pregnancy, having found out her twins had Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, and she'd need to to have life-saving surgery. “Thankfully they kept going and arrived the day after Dolly’s birthday,” Alices says. “Doing a Dolly project during this scary time allowed me to escape the worry, find strength and feel something of myself again.”

Although it's dedicated to one person – Dolly – Alice still hopes the book speaks to “all of us who understand the desire to transform and to celebrate”. And, of course, aside from creating such an impressive book, what would really be the cherry on top for Alice is for Dolly herself to see the book, “and know that I made it sincerely from my heart”, the photographer ends.

GalleryAlice Hawkins: Dear Dolly (Copyright © Alice Hawkins, 2023)

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Alice Hawkins: Dear Dolly (Copyright © Alice Hawkins, 2023)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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