Lily Hansen | Interviews

“Doers get Noticed” and Other Truths from Photographer Jeremy Cowart

Danielle Maltby by Jeremy Cowart

In this limited series, Design Observer features conversations with creatives from the inventive, implacable, cultural melting pot that is Nashville, Tennessee. In her new book Word of Mouth: More Conversations, author Lily Hansen takes conversation with others from chore to professional vocation, and as author and oral historian Studs Terkel put it, talks with creative people “about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do.”

We selected four such conversations—with illustrator Rebecca Green, apparel and shoe designer Phillip Nappi, photographer Jeremy Cowart, and tattoo artist Elisheba Israel—to enlighten us as to what they do, why, and how they found their creative voice within that unique fabric that is the Music City.

Nashville-born photographer Jeremy Cowart follows his inklings, which is why he has been through so many seasons—from photographing celebrities in LA to speaking at the United Nations about his philanthropy work. Yet, Cowart wants people to understand he hasn’t always been so together. He learned his craft by jumping into the deep-end and figuring out the details as he went along. This meandering is why the photographer refers to himself as an “experimentalist who loves to play.” The former graphic designer and computer kid is lauded for his Photoshop skills. His encouraging messages and meaningful projects have attracted a global following. The second he put aside his self-motivation and asked, “How can I help others?” everything changed.

Augustana by Jeremy Cowart

When did you have that lightning-bolt moment where you realized helping others was your passion?

Our first Help Portrait event in Nashville—where we took photos of people who had never had their picture made—was life changing for both the photographers and subjects. Also, the first time I traveled to Africa in 2005, I saw the bigger picture in a very real way.

Is it odd to flip back and forth between documentary and celebrity photography?

It’s bizarre, but at the same time, I appreciate the contrast. Shooting celebrities is high-pressure with lots of problem-solving involved. That industry has inspired me to focus on areas of the world that need more attention. Everything comes back to using my platform to point to what truly matters.

Child in Haiti by Jeremy Cowart

How do you know if you want to pursue an idea? I’m assuming you have lots that run through your head.

First, I always follow my interests, and second, I run the idea by those whom I trust and who will be honest with me: my wife, business manager, and a few close friends. Then I wait a few months because, a lot of times, what can seem genius at first might appear stupid later. If it sticks, then I pursue it.

What is your advice for aspiring photographers?

Create like crazy by shooting any and everything you can. Doers and people who are cranking it out all of the time get noticed. I also think it’s important to marry personal and commercial work in your portfolio.
Doers and people who are cranking it out all of the time get noticed.

What do you tell yourself on those days when you don’t want to do photography?

Fortunately, I have a family to provide for, so that keeps me financially motivated. [Laughs] But, as Chuck Close says, “Inspiration is for amateurs.” I also believe in getting the work done from nine to five every day. Also, changing up my visual diet helps me stay stimulated and in the zone.

What is your secret to keeping track of everything you have going on?

As a creative, right-brained person, the answer is simple: align yourself with left-brained people who know how to get the work done. My business manager and assistant/producer keep track of all the logistics.

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

Money management. Creative people have to accept the fact that they are CEOs. Business, marketing, and branding are just as, if not more so, important than the art itself.

Imogen Heap by Jeremy Cowart

How do you move through fear?

By embracing failure as though it was a best friend. I’ve had lots of terrible shoots, which  introduced me to humiliation. You have to be unafraid to jump off cliffs.

This interview has been edited for length. Read the full interview in Word of Mouth: More Conversations.
Camryn Clark by Jeremy Cowart

Posted in: Photography

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