Tech-savvy and with the experimental eye of a painter, Jeremy Cowart has been called “the most influential photographer on the web.” Glance over the faces in his portfolio—among them Kelly Clarkson, Sting, and Tim Tebow—and you could assume the prominence of his work would be enough to earn him the title. But the Nashville native’s celebrity shoots are just the beginning.
Earlier this year, Cowart posted a testimony video, sharing how Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ…”) got him through academic challenges and self-doubt as a student and graphic designer, then countered his imposter syndrome as a suddenly successful photographer. “Greatness,” he said, “should have a greater purpose.” His online See University makes the magic behind his stylish portraits accessible to fellow photographers with how-to and behind-the-scenes videos. Cowart also rallies the industry to give back. Through Help-Portrait, photographers around the globe have shot portraits for more than a half-million homeless people, single moms, cancer patients, and more. In partnership with mission groups, his own projects have depicted earthquake-devastated Haitian slums, Rwandans reconciled after the country’s genocide, and former Ugandan child soldiers.
Cowart’s charitable initiatives go beyond photography; his newest initiative, The Purpose Hotel, began crowd-funding this summer. Each room in the hotel tells the story of and supports a sponsored child; each amenity from linens to keys comes from a nonprofit cause. Its motto? “Change the world in your sleep.”