From Sting to Taylor Swift to Michael W. Smith, Jeremy Cowart has photographed some of the red carpet’s flashiest stars. But as exciting as photographing celebrities might seem, it’s the everyday faces of people who’ve never had a picture taken that inspire him the most.
Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest ones, and for renowned celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart, the simple act of snapping a photo of someone in need has forever changed his life.
And this weekend, on December 10, Cowart, along with countless photographers, makeup artists and volunteers spanning the globe will be collaborating together in various locales to give everyone from the homeless to the incarcerated to the elderly, sick and simply forgotten an early Christmas present—a beautiful photo of themselves that showcases their unique, God-given beauty.
The project that’s been in existence for three years now is called Help Portrait. Birthed out of Cowart’s desire to come up with a way to use his camera to give back, the effort became a much bigger deal than he ever imagined when fellow photographers wanted to be part of the action. By utilizing popular social networking services, what started as an inspired philanthropic idea became a movement in as little as three months.
In the past two years alone, more than 101,000 portraits have been given by 10,000 photographs and 12,000 volunteers. If that wasn’t already impressive-enough, Help Portrait has now gone global by spanning more than a 1,000 locations in 54 countries, something that still surprises Cowart.
“I just put the idea out there, but it’s everyone else who ran away with it,” Cowart shares. “It’s funny because in the United States, everyone has a camera in their pocket and photography isn’t really a big deal. But in other countries, it’s a really big deal because it’s not as common. So Help Portrait is trying to find these people and show them how beautiful they are—in some cases, for the very first time.”
Ready for Their Close-Up
In the past, Cowart has never actually shown the Help Portrait photos to a wider audience because he never wanted the photography itself to be in the spotlight. But as giving, rather than merely taken pictures, has consistently been the focus of Help Portrait, this year’s event will be the first time where photographers can personalize the experience by letting the subjects’ tell their own stories by writing or drawing on their respective photos.
“As the founder of this movement, I felt it was best to not show the photos,” says Cowart. “I didn’t want this movement to be about photography. But I underestimated our community. They all instantly caught on to the spirit of Help-Portrait. But now I’m realizing just how much we’ve kept the world from seeing and experiencing what we get to see each year. Now I want to let everyone in our little secret by sharing the photos of those who want to tell their stories to the world.”
Also switching things up a bit, the Help-Portrait team is encouraging photographers to hand the cameras over to the subjects and do their own shooting through the lens giving them a unique opportunity to be behind the camera. “It’s never been about the photographer or his skills or what he has to offer,” Cowart shares. “It’s always been about connecting with and giving back to the subject, so this is an exciting new development.”
A Striking Contrast
Although he admits he didn’t “do particularly well in the class,” Cowart says he first fell in love with photography in college. Funny enough, considering he photographs an enviable roster of celebrity talent on a regular basis, he says it wasn’t until he saw how much a picture meant to people in need that his “mind was blown.”
He says for most celebrities, a photo shoot is just another part of their ongoing day, the proverbial to-do on a very long list of activities. But as much as he takes pride in his work, his work with Help Portrait is the polar opposite of his day job.
“For these people, it’s their moment to be a celebrity on the red carpet,” Cowart shares. “We have a hair and makeup team, so it’s a pretty revealing moment when they see themselves in a photo. To be honest, there’s nothing quite like it.”
For more information about Help Portrait and how you can get involved, please visit help-portrait.com.