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How Celebrity Photographer Found His Focus

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Award-Winning/Celebrity photographer, has photographed numerous celebrities including Sting, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Lauren Daigle, Ryan Seacrest, etc.

Founder, The Purpose Hotel, a global for-profit hotel chain designed to fuel the work of not-for-profit organizations

Founder of a global photography movement, Help-Portrait

Founder of an online teaching platform, SeeUniversity.com

Graduate: Middle Tennessee State University

Married: Shannon

4 children (2 biological, 2 adopted from Haiti)

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FINDING HIS NICHE
Jeremy grew up in Hendersonville, TN (once famous for being where Johnny Cash lived, but not famous for being where Taylor Swift went to high school!).  Jeremy struggled in school. When he was in third grade, the guidance counselor called his parents because he wouldn’t make eye contact and talked with his head down.  Day after day it was the same story: Cs and Ds which reinforced the idea in Jeremy’s head that he was mediocre.  “At the end of every day, when I’d walk through the front doors of my house, defeated about all the things that had gone over my head, I’d tell my parents, I can’t do this,” says Jeremy.  “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you," Jeremy’s dad would say.  In seventh grade, everything changed.  Jeremy enrolled in an elective art class and drew a New York City street corner with the cityscape vanishing in the background.  When he brought it home, Jeremy’s parents asked if he traced it.  He said no.  “They acted like I’d won the World Series,” says Jeremy.  As they celebrated his work, Jeremy thought, “Maybe I wouldn’t be average after all.  Maybe there was something I could do.”  For his birthday that year, Jeremy’s parents bought him a drafting table with boxes of oil pastels and colored pencils.  “I spent countless hours at that desk,” says Jeremy.  

After high school, Jeremy attended Middle Tennessee State University and pursued fine arts.  As a sophomore, he took a photography class but got a D.  In 1999, he asked Shannon to marry him.  Until the 2000s, Jeremy worked in graphic design and high-end advertising but freelanced on the side.  Some of his college buddies were trying to break into the music industry and asked Jeremy to design their album covers and websites.  Word spread and soon he ventured out into his own business.  Eventually Jeremy bought a digital camera out of necessity and bought Digital Photography for Dummies.  By 2005, photography was all Jeremy wanted to do!  “I see how my life was beginning to resemble a collection of Photoshop layers,” says Jeremy.  “One idea laid over a previous idea laid over the one before.” 
 

THE BIG BREAK
In 2007, he was hired to shoot the set of the second season of Prison Break even though he didn’t know how to light big sets.  “I’d taken ‘fake it til you make it’ to the extreme,” says Jeremy.  In the process, he discovered he could catch anything the photography world could throw at him.” All of us have Prison Break moments in life,” says Jeremy. “Moments when we either walk away from the cliff’s edge or take an audacious risk. When those moments come, we find ourselves either paralyzed with fear, crippled by self-doubt, or overly concerned with the prospect of failure….say yes to something grand and see what happens.”

In 2008, Jeremy got the idea to take pictures of people who were down and out, people in need, who had never had their picture taken professionally.  They set up the shoot in a school gym and reached out to a friend who spread the word at a local homeless shelter.  Over the course of the day, 60 people came in.  Each time when they received their photo, the reaction was the same: smiles, laughter and tears.  Jeremy posted a video on Facebook and decided to make this an annual event.  Each December, more than 3,500 photographers across the country participate.

In 2010, Jeremy watched the horrors of the earthquake in Haiti.  All the news outlets reported the same devastations.  “What about the Haitian people?” Jeremy asked.  He tweeted, “Does anybody know how I can get to Haiti?”  A stranger answered, “You can stay with me.” So, Jeremy gathered a crew and headed to Haiti with his camera.  Bodies were piled up on the sides of the roads.  Devastation was everywhere.  “I wanted to capture their voices, their stories,” says Jeremy.  They passed out markers and picked up rubble for people to write on.  “What message do you want to send the world?” they asked.  They wrote in their language: “God, show me the path of hope.” “I hope this never happens again.” “God give the children of Haiti a better life.” Jeremy found a couple who were getting married who decided to go through with it despite the devastation.  Their message: “Love conquers all.”  Jeremy got home and posted one photo a day on Facebook for 70 days.  He called it, “Voice of Haiti.”  Six weeks after he got back, Jeremy got a call that a gathering of leaders, donors and politicians were meeting at the UN in New York City.  They asked to use his photos to display in the halls of the UN to provide inspiration to attendees as they walked into the meeting.  The leaders who met that day pledged $10 billion to reconstruct Haiti.  “I have no way of knowing how my photos affected them,” says Jeremy.  “I know one thing for certain: they heard the voices of the Haitian people.”

Once Jeremy was at a conference designed to empower young Christian leaders.  One woman on the panel asked, “Could you forgive a person who murdered your family?”  Jeremy was shocked.  She was a filmmaker behind the Academy Award winning student documentary about two Rwandan women who came face-to-face with the men who slaughtered their families during the 1994 genocide.  The film, As We Forgive, followed the women on their journey to reconciliation.  Jeremy wanted to use his camera to document these stories of forgiveness.  A few months later, he was on a plane to Rwanda.  One story was of two men: Innocent and Gasperd.  Innocent murdered 5 people in 1994, one of them was Gasperd’s brother. Innocent went to jail but when he got out, made his way to find Gasperd.  He asked for forgiveness.  Gasperd not only forgave Innocent but he welcomed him into an agricultural association.  The two were now dependent on each other for their daily needs! They took a white marker and wrote: “Love is the weapon that destroys all evil.”  Jeremy documented many other stories and published them on his website calling them, “Voices of Reconciliation.”  Within a few days, CNN reached out to him and used his photo essay as their leading international story: Could You Forgive Your Family’s Killer?  

Jeremy’s friend worked with former child soldiers in central and eastern Africa.  They started using art therapy to help these children deal with their trauma.  Jeremy wanted in on the art therapy.  So, he flew to Uganda with a team.  Once there, they asked the children to draw their stories – the pains of their past.  The children drew on a monitor with digital pens so the images would be captured directly into Photoshop.  Jeremy walked past them as they drew.  There were soldiers, bullets and blood.  Some of the kids paused, covered their faces and wept.  “These were the most horrific drawings I’d seen from children,” says Jeremy.  The project provided a healing opportunity for the brave survivors.  Jeremy called his project: The Poza Project.  Poza is the word closest Swahili translation for the word heal.

Jeremy is working on The Purpose Hotel, a for-profit hotel chain designed to fuel the endeavors of not-for-profit organizations.  They will be breaking ground in Nashville soon.  “I want people to be encouraged to jump into things they are most afraid of,” says Jeremy.  “Don’t say no to the idea.  It’s all based on momentum.”  The title of his book changes the impossible to I’m Possible.

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