As a full-time celebrity and portrait photographer of 12 years, Jeremy Cowart knows a thing or two about not only photographing people, but quickly establishing a rapport with them. With subjects like the Kardashians, Tim Tebow and Taylor Swift, and clients such as Discovery Channel, People and Universal Records, Cowart’s portfolio is a diverse creative spectrum. It also includes a charity of his own, Help-Portrait, which has a simple mission: Find someone in need, take his or her portrait, print it and deliver it.
PDN: How is Help-Portrait an example of how the power of photography can have global impact?
JC: I’ve seen examples of photos literally changing lives. I’ve seen people using their portrait as a new headshot to get their first job and get back on their feet. I’ve seen elderly women have their hair and makeup done for the first time in their lives through Help-Portrait. I’ve shown children their own faces for the first time in third-world countries. It’s crazy what can be done with a camera and a printer and how simple it can be if people just reach out and help. These are powerful tools that can heal, empower and give dignity to people when put in the right hands.
I helped oversee printing in the Nashville Help-Portrait events, where each subject received either a few 5- x 7-inch or 8-x -10-inch prints, depending on our supply levels. I’ve seen every reaction possible over the years as a result of this: people collapsing in tears of joy, people jumping for joy and people staring in awe. And to top it all off with high-end prints is such a rewarding, beautiful experience.
Photos of Cowart on set for Help-Portrait / Photos courtesy of Jeremy Cowart
PDN: You had an exhibition at the United Nations in 2010 that raised money for Oxfam to contribute to earthquake relief funds for Haiti in 2010—how did that come about?
JC: After the 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti, I was deeply moved. For days I watched as the television flashed images of gloom and doom—dead bodies, crumbled buildings—it just felt like a heartless display of numbers and statistics. “How were the people feeling?” I wondered. So I decided to go to Port-au-Prince myself and ask them directly. My question was simply: “What do you have to say about all this?” I used rubble I had found and had them them write on it with art supplies I had brought with me—visual tweets, if you will. Oxfam later discovered the project and decided to hang it in the halls of the U.N. in front of a crucial group of world leaders that were gathering to pledge money to rebuild Haiti. I’m so honored that my photos and project were used in that way.
PDN: How does the power of print tie into and help both your professional work and your charity work?
JC: There’s something about a physical print that will forever outmatch any high-resolution screen. I just started working with the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 and I’ve been printing my personal work at 44 inches wide—it’s just mind-blowing. The ease, the quality, the speed—every artist dreams of seeing their work this large, this easily. I honestly can’t stop printing here lately. I’ve already got people on social media asking if I’m going to be selling prints of my work, which of course is part of the plan. It’s insane what’s possible now with these tools and printers.
Personal work by Cowart in which he combines his photos in digital collages.
Photos © Jeremy Cowart
PDN: How do you believe your work helps/pitches into in the global conversation about diversity?
JC: I do hope my work is adding to the global conversation about diversity. I’ve worked with every skin color possible in over 30 countries—I’ve photographed the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. I’m a storyteller, and I’m very passionate about exploring the intersection of creativity and empathy. If my art and prints can actually help someone or a situation, then I am incredibly fulfilled as an artist.
–Sponsored by Canon