By Seth Williams
July 15, 2014
"My identity is in Christ, and for me as a Christian, I have to give God all the credit because everything I do truly feels divine and like it comes from Him."
I first heard of Jeremy years ago when he was designing websites for Pixelgrazer, a graphic design company he started. Shortly after, I began to see all these ridiculously beautiful photos of famous musicians and learned that they were all taken by Jeremy. If you haven't yet seen Jeremy's photography, you're in for a treat. Jeremy has photographed an extensive list of well-known entertainers that would be a dream to the rest of us, including Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Tim Tebow, Sting, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ryan Seacrest, just to name a few. He has earned the respect of celebrities and photographers for his outstanding work and humble, loving personality. Jeremy is also a humanitarian and entrepreneur. He uses his creative gifts and passions to love the world. Jeremy founded Help Portrait, a worldwide movement of photographers who are using their talents to give back to the less fortunate. He recently launched OKDOTHIS, a photography social networking community. And he has been named "the most influential photographer on the web," which was featured on Huffington Post, Forbes, and Yahoo. I had the honor and privilege of sitting down and chatting with Jeremy over Skype and am excited to see how his story and heart continue to influence the world. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Shannon, and their two kids, Adler and Eisley. They are also in the process of adopting two more children from Haiti.
What's your favorite album of all time?
It's funny that you ask that because today I heard U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, and I thought, that has to be one of my favorite songs of all time. It just doesn't get old.
Do you have a favorite film of all time?
Not necessarily. I don't think I have one favorite film. I love The Royal Tenenbaums, Great Expectations, Good Will Hunting. Gosh, there's so many that come to mind. I've never really had one favorite film.
Being from Nashville, do you have a favorite place to grab coffee?
I wish I was more of a coffee guy. I mean, I drink it, but I don't know anything about it. In fact, all my friends who love coffee make fun of me because I've never been to any of the cool coffee places. Usually my wife makes coffee and I like however she makes it. I try to make it but every time I make it myself it's awful, so any time my wife makes it it's somehow magical. So I guess my wife's coffee would be the answer to that.
What's the most important part of your life?
My family and faith. Being with my wife and children every day. We're adopting two more kids right now. So definitely family. I've been out jumping on the trampoline all night and playing dodgeball with them. Work certainly falls down the list.
How does your faith in Jesus define who you are?
That's a good question. I've been a Christian for pretty much my whole life. I became a Christian when I was ten. My identity is in Christ, and for me as a Christian, I have to give God all the credit because everything I do truly feels divine and like it comes from Him. My ideas are continual and I don't try to come up with ideas. I don't brainstorm. I don't take time or make effort to think of new things to do or think of new projects or ideas. They just kind of appear. And obviously I don't think I'm the only one. I think any ideas typically work that way but we tend to give ourselves credit. Any time I have a crazy idea I think, that wasn't me. Whatever that was that just happened was not my doing. For me as a creative person, I just feel like it's all God.
I'm blown away by your photography. You're crazy talented. Your creativity and entrepreneurship is inspiring to the creative community. So what do you love about photography?
There are a lot of things that I love. I tell people that every day is kind of like Christmas, because I don't know where I'm going next or who I'm going to be with next. Every project I do has an exciting element to it, whether it's someone I've always wanted to work with or going somewhere exciting, there's always an element of surprise. I love that photography involves documenting my life and other lives. Even when I'm not working on a job, I'm still shooting my own family like crazy. I'll always be the dad that has a camera attached to his hip. I love collecting and organizing all our memories. It's a crazy and awesome way to document our lives. And you'd think I'd have the same passion for video, but I just don't. My passion for video is not there. I just love something about still imagery. It's much more interesting to me.
Where did that passion for photography come from? Was it something you've always had or was it a more recent find?
No, it wasn't always there. I took one photography class in college and got a D. I hated it. I literally swore off photography for life. It wasn't until a few years later when digital photography really became a thing that I bought a camera just to shoot textures and things to include in my design work. But then in the process of shooting I really fell in love with it and ran with it from there.
You just mentioned that you're adopting two kids. I'd love to hear how the adoption process strengthened your faith and the bond in your family.
Yeah, we're not done. They're not home yet. They should be home soon. But yeah, we dove into it not knowing that we had dove straight into corruption. We spent a year in full on corruption and finally found out about it all and had to dig ourselves out of that hole. It was quite the emotional journey for me and my wife, no doubt. But I think we're almost to the end of that road and super excited to start the next chapter.
Has having kids inspired you in any new ways creatively?
Yeah, I think so. It's hard to define what those are but my kids constantly inspire me. They're life giving. They keep me going. I feel like I'm most alive when I'm out being with my kids and goofing off. So they inspire me in that way and keep me rejuvenated. Tonight we were on the trampoline and I don't think I've laughed that hard in a long time pelting my son with tennis balls and him doing the same to me. It was hilarious. They're just incredible. And people that don't have kids can't really understand children until they have them. It's one of those things that you've got to do to understand.
I'd love for you to tell me a bit about Help Portrait.
It's a movement of photographers around the world giving portraits to people in need. And it's a volunteer movement so we all do it for free and we print the pictures on the spot and give them away to the people we shoot, with no agenda and no strings attached. It's really a photographer's gift to the world. It happens every December. Our next event is December seventh and we're super stoked to get that going.
Is there one particular Help Portrait story that really moved you in a powerful way?
There are literally thousands of stories. One of my favorites is when I got to photograph a woman who had just lost her husband. She had four kids, and when her husband was alive they never once had a family portrait. So, she gave me a picture of him and asked me to shoot her and her family and then combine the two in Photoshop. We were able to do that and give her her first ever family portrait with her deceased husband. As you can imagine, it was pretty powerful and meaningful for her. Those stories go on and on and on. You can imagine all the women getting their hair and makeup done for the first time in their lives. It's pretty remarkable.
It's so refreshing to talk to people like you that use their gifts and passions to love on people.
Looking back at your past, is there something that you used to be awful at that you've grown a lot in?
Oh gosh, there's a lot. I was awful at photography. I was awful at design. To this day I'm constantly growing. I just wrote a message about that yesterday on Facebook. I think I've learned more in the last month than I have in the last year. I'm always trying to stretch myself and learn more. So probably in another year I'll think that I sucked at this time this year. I really enjoy the process of learning and stretching myself.
If you could go back in time and sit down with your eighteen year old self, what would you say to him?
Go to business school and learn money management and business because those are things that they don't really teach you when you study art or design or photography. We all tend to think that that stuff doesn't matter. We think we're too creative and we're artists and we don't need to know that stuff. But I think that every artist really needs to know money and business as well as they do the art because it's all one big sandwich. It all goes together.
How do see your faith play out in the work you do?
I don't know. It doesn't always play out. In the bigger picture though I think I'm trying to use my gifts and passions to point to things greater than myself. I'm always trying to help people or serve people. God calls us to love our neighbors. And I love that I'm in the mainstream culture working with people of all belief systems and I'm not living in some sheltered Christian world. I really feel alive when I'm among people with different beliefs, learning from them and listening to them and they're doing the same with me. We all can get along. I've seen it happen.
What's your greatest fear as a father?
There are lots but one that comes to mind is technology and how early do I expose my kids to the world of technology. When do I give them social media accounts. It's overwhelming all the stuff that kids can see these days. So I have lots of fears there. But then just the world in general. I feel like every time I read the news another part of the world hates the United States. It seems like there's a war popping up every few months and the more the United States tries to fix it the more people hate us. So I think, man, I can't imagine what this world's going to look like in another twenty, thirty years. So yeah, there's certainly a lot of fear there but I do my best at raising my children and loving them the best I can.
What's your greatest dream as a father?
That I would love my kids the best I can like my parents love me and that they would pursue their passions and try to help people and love people. I don't really have any expectations of them. Just that I lead them well.
What challenges your faith the most?
There could be a million answers to that too. I've lost a lot this year. I lost my brother to a heart attack. The question is always popping up, why does tragedy exist, especially to good people? So those things are always challenging.
How do you find time to spend with God? What does that look like for you?
I've never been a concentrated "quiet time" kind of guy. Coming up in the church you're taught that you're a bad Christian if you don't do that. You're taught that that's how you're supposed to live your walk. I didn't know it at the time, but I'm so naturally ADD. So I feel like mine is an ongoing conversation in my life. It's not like I sit down for thirty minutes and have a quiet time. I just feel like it's this constant thing. It's a lot of listening mostly. God speaks to me in all these ideas. It's like a constant flow. I'm not like your traditional quiet time Christian. God made me to be way too ADD. As a sixth or seventh grader, it was impossible for me to sit still for thirty minutes. And I think now finally, as an adult, I'm like well God, if you made me this way, then if anyone understands, it's you.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your children?
Yeah, that's something I think about all the time. We live in a digital world where everything we say on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram is leaving behind a trail of media that our kids will be able to research and dig through one day. And you can't say that about our parents, or our parents' parents. We are the beginning of our digital family tree. So I'm always thinking about that. My legacy is what I've been talking about here, is trying to figure out how to pursue, and above all, to be brave and bold in my endeavors to love people who disagree with me and to pursue my calling while not being of this world. I'm loving it so far. I'm enjoying every aspect of what I do. So that's definitely something that I'm always thinking about is what are my kids going to think of this one day when they're old enough to read about it. It's always in the back of my mind.
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