I recently got asked to shoot photos for a show called “The Haves and HaveNots” for the Oprah Winfrey Network. I’ve shot many shows in my career and I always enjoy these shoots because there are so many challenges involved. There’s tons of “talent” aka celebrities involved, all their teams, all the hair, makeup and wardrobe involved, there’s very limited time, there are tons of shots to create, there’s an immense pressure to “nail” the creative concept and obviously there is usually lots of money involved. These are high budget, high-pressure shoots. It’s diving into the deep end for sure, as far as photography is concerned. And I love that challenge. I love stepping up to the plate and going for the homerun.
But one of the things I DON’T love about these shoots is that I never really get to connect with the people I’m shooting. They’re in and out in minutes. Sometimes I literally am only able to take a few pictures before they’re wisked away.
This is one of those VERY few rare occasions where I was able to connect. And I have my subject to thank for allowing me into his story.
One of the cast members was John Schneider. You might know him from his work on “Dukes of Hazard” or “Smallville”. John was one of my many subjects that day and like the rest of the cast, he was extremely professional, humble and a lot of fun to work with. He was killing his portraits… smiling, goofing off and he even threw in several impressions of famous actors and presidents. I was very impressed by his talent and good-natured humor. You can see some of those portraits below.
Towards the end of his session, we brought in the lead cast member, Tika Sumpter, to interact with. They were dancing, laughing and having a great time. Again, I was very impressed by his ability to light up the camera and have a good time.
Once we wrapped up his session, Tika walked off set and John came to me and whispered in my ear “Hey can you sneak a few more portraits of me?” and I said “sure of course”. He said “there’s something going on and I just need a photo.”
So I grabbed my camera again and John walked back on set.
He immediately began weeping. Legitimately crying. He was so good at impressions that I thought this was another impression and I thought “wow, what an acting talent.”
But then after a couple of frames, I could tell that this wasn’t an act. He was really somewhere else.
Finally, I put my camera down. This was too real. It didn’t feel right to keep shooting.
So I walked up to him and hugged him.
He whispered in my ear “My Dad died about an hour ago. I found out during our lunch break. And I wanted you to capture that for me.”
Then he walked up to my screen, looked at the portraits and pointed to the last one (seen above, last) and said “That’s it. That’s my Dad.”
“I’m so sorry.” I said. I was stunned. Shocked. And deeply moved, obviously.
I didn’t want to ask any further questions out of respect.
John took off shortly thereafter to go back home to plan the next steps with his family.
I’ve since received official permission from John to share this story and these portraits with you. I will never forget this moment. And I want to thank John for inviting me into his story, even just for a moment and for allowing me to capture this for him.
As a father myself, I wept for him. We all did that day.
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Make this worthwhile to you and those you love, as John Schneider gave us all a gift by passing it forward,
For those of you who are at an impasse of sorts with your Dad or Mom call them, tell them you love them, and want to not just make it better, but great. That will change your life, and John's grief of love will gift you with and have even greater meaning
And to those who have a great relationship with your Dad and Mom, call them , better yet see them now, today, for you just saw how important they are too, and will be oh so missed
God bless you John
I saw this article on FB and was immediately moved. As a portrait photographer, we're always looking to capture the many different facets of who we photograph. This was a real moment that John felt ready to share with Jeremy. A trust and connection was made during the photo shoot. Rare moments like these aren't publicly released unless with the kind permission of the subject or family. Thank you for reminding us that some people of celebrity status do have real emotions.
This is part of why I am a photographer, the emotion we are drawn into....good or bad, happy or sad. The moments we capture, the memories we save. We are photographers!!! Glory to God!!!
What an amazing story and so compassionate. Cried for hours after reading this and can't stop looking at the pictures. Thank you and thank John for allowing all of us to share this moment of intense grief with him. Keeping him and his family and you in my prayers.
How do you some up a life; God says, it is but a vapor and yet He looks down on us with compassion, telling us that we are more important than all the sparrows? This is a moment that testifies this to the world. Victor Hugo said, "to love another person is to see the face of God." What a precious thing, that pouring out the love of his father would bring forth an image of his father. Could it be a reflection of the heart of God?
Thank you ...he shared his heart and you captured it beautifully. Hugs for the Schneider's and for you for capturing life's moments . A visual and heartbreaking recognition of how we can so quickly go from joy to sadness in an instant. More Hugs
I am so unbelievably moved, and equally inspired as a photographer. Thank you so much for sharing this. There really aren't proper words to plumb the depth of emotion that these images capture. What a gift you have given him.
I had the pleasure of meeting John Schneider in NYC in 1992 one afternoon moments before he went onstage for Grand Hotel. Although time was tight, he made time for me and spoke to me for a few minutes and took a photo with me. He was so wonderful. Easily the kindest and warmest celebrity I have met. Those 10 minutes meant more to me than he 'll ever realize. Just a beautiful person. Your photos are absolutely amazing smd my thoughts go out to him and his family.
What a beautiful and sad moment you captured. Thank you for capturing this and sharing, and my condolences to John and his family.
What an amazing moment for both of you... and what courage for John Schneider to want to capture that moment and his emotions…you did an amazing job capturing this story through photos…my heart goes out to the family for their loss.
Jeremy, your heart opened this door. The right place, the only time, and your authentic love and humility towards people. Well done to you, and condolences to John. May 2014 hold many rare moments of stepping beyond what the eye sees.
This is as real as it gets. May the world share and capture more of this! My deepest sympathy to John Schneider's family for their physical loss f his father.
Explosive , in my heart with this one Jeremy, one of the best post I have ready in a love time from anyone.
I have recently remembered my father as his 2 yr passing anniversary is coming up (valentine's day) and I am so glad to have read this post. My mom reminds me when I do things like my dad... Things I don't even notice I'm doing and can't redo. I think it's extremely sweet that you were able to capture a moment like that. I know she loves capturing me doing things like that for herself. :)
This is most beautiful. Spirit! It's what art is all about. Thank you for sharing this moment, both of you. John, thank you for making a difference in my childhood -- I was tomboyish and a bit of a loner, and a piece of me was reflected back to me by them Dukes! Jeremy -- no words. Beautiful does not suffice.
Jeremy thank you for sharing these photo's and helping a man I've admired since I first saw him behind the wheel of a 1969 Dodge Charger in 1979. And he is still one of my favorite actors.
I was so very touched by these photos and the story of John's loss. I could feel his pain and loss through these photos. Thank you for sharing this and thank John for sharing such a heartfelt moment. My sympathies go out to John and his family. My admiration goes out to you both. Thank you.
Thank you Jeremy for such an incredible project. I am so happy that John shared his journey and this article was published. I lost my father in 2011 and captured my year of grief in photographs and it was so healing for me. I haven't seen anything like this since I did my photographs. How inspiring! I am inspired everyday to tap into my emotions because of things like this. Check it out: theashesproject.com
Lovely photos and capturing the essences of the moment. Condolences to John and his family. Thank you for sharing this private moment with us.
We are always surrounded by his amazing grace. Blessed are those that are granted the timely awareness and capacity to acknowledge and share that grace...and thank you, Jeremy, for sharing your good fortune.
THIS is the most Awesome Article that I have read in the last Decade. I think, whether you have lost a family member or not, we all needed this. Thanks for Sharing, Jeremy Cowart...
They are beautiful photographs... If a son loves his father this much, imagine how much his father loved him. The photos remind me of Mario Testino's photos of Princess Diana a couple of days before she died...
Beautiful. When I was 21, my brother died the day before I was supposed to dance in a several performances. I opted to perform despite my grief. My dance teacher always took photos backstage, and the photos of me from that day remain very precious to me; the rawness and intensity of my emotion remind me of my brother and how I felt that day. It is, for me, a window into myself that I could not have planned and could never replace.
John I am so sorry for your loss. May Jesus fill you and your family with peace and comfort. Prayers are with you.
John, My condolences to you and your family! You are an amazing actor, (huge fan of Smallville here) and these were amazing pics. I am so sorry for your loss! May your father rest in peace and may you find solace with your family inhis passing! I look forward to your future projects. God Bless my friend, whom I have never met! ;)
I was deeply touched by this article and photos. … I am without words, everything is in a tailspin and I don’t quite know how to express it. … Words. … Too many. … I think I will just keep the feeling inside. It is good and warm. Eventually I will be able to associate words in a dignified manner to share my deep feelings about the subject of this article and photos. Gerard Jr.
True love for a father... beautiful, and so heartbreaking. John, I'm so sorry. What a blessing to use your gift during such a time, Jeremy.
@RebeccaGrennan thank you Rebecca. As many times as you see it, you cry again for John and his grief of love. Don