When I teach, I always talk about the importance of doing personal work. I could write a novel on this topic and why it’s crucial for every artist to pursue. Over time, I’ve pursued many personal projects and to this day, they’re the projects and images I’m most proud of and the things I want to tell my kids about one day.
My latest is a series of portraits that, for now, I’m calling “Portrait Q&A”. The premise is simple. I shoot a portait of a friend or stranger and they have to answer a question from the subject before. Then they have to ask a question for my next subject. The questions and answers just keep going and the result becomes an interesting cultural dialogue. This project is already pushing me and forcing me to talk to strangers and even go deep into conversation with these strangers. I’m only 8 portraits in and it’s really pushing me.
This week, I’m headed to Alaska on a cruise with my family. We’re headed out with Nokia to check out the Lumia 1020 and all the new Windows software for the phone. Should be fun and I plan on continuing this series. The portraits should start getting REALLY interesting this week with Alaska as my backdrop.
These were all shot with my iPhone by the way. (I always get asked.)
1st question of the series came from me for my friend Bradley:
“What do you fear?”
Bradley Spitzer // 33 // Art Director/Photographer
“I fear I will be alone for the rest of my life, as my wife and I will soon be divorced.
I worry that the stain of a failed marriage negates the possibility of having a healthy, loving relationship in the future.
And even beyond those, I fear that I won’t learn from my mistakes and bad decisions.”
Bradley’s question for the next subject:
“What do you regret?”
Andres Martinez // 28 // Photographer
“What do I regret? Well, a lot. One of my biggest regrets is letting fear run so much of my life. When I think back on how many times I didn’t seize a moment or an opportunity that’s presented itself due to being fearful of failure or a less than comfortable outcome, my heart breaks a little bit. What could simply saying “yes” instead of a hesitant “maybe…” have done for me so many times before? What makes taking that first small step so difficult sometimes? Every situation that’s be tough has ultimately made me stronger. Why can’t I learn that lesson? So here’s to taking some risks, making some mistakes and being better.”
Andres’s question for the next subject:
“What is the one thing keeping you from being happy or the person you want to be? ”
David Fanning // 28 // Musician //
“Time… I think with time and a lot of passion and hard work you can be whoever you want to be.”
David’s question for the next subject:
“If you were to go blind, what’s the last thing you would want to see?”
Ava Zach // 6 // 1st Grader
“A horse. I could ride the horse and play with it before I go blind.”
Ava’s question for the next subject:
“Why does a playtapus have a beaver tail and a duck bill?
Alexis Schields // 23 // assistant to Jeremy Cowart
“The platypus was on the duck face trend before us all and is the animal version of a hipster. I guess the real question we all should be asking is why don’t we have beaver tails? The platypus was right about the duck face, so we have every reason to trust the beaver tail move as well.”
Alexis’s question for the next subject:
“What were you doing when you last lost track of time?”
Michael Steakley // 35 // Florist
“Designer of the year competition, I was so in to my designs I had no track of time.”
Michael’s question for the next subject:
“If you were something that is naturally grown, what would it be and why?”
Scott E Keith // 51 // Bartender
“I would be a giant Sequoia because I love history and I think it would be fascinating to have seen all that has transpired over the last 2000 years.”
Scott’s question for the next subject:
“With technology expanding at such a rapid rate, how do you see yourself living 25 years from now?
Reese Cowart // 12 // 6th Grader
“I see myself living in the future with flying cars! In the future I hope that I will be able to carry myself around on Aerial Silks! When I am 37 I will be able to have a robot to do all chores for me!
Reese’s question for the next subject:
“I just lost my Daddy. How do you deal with the loss of a loved one?”
Jason Brown // 34 // CEO of Aroluxe Marketing //
“Reese, first off I’m very sorry for your loss. Second, I know how you feel. I lost my dad 35 days ago today in a freak accident, and I miss him so much. “How do you deal with the loss of a loved one?” For me, my answer has been a single word “God”. I’m extremely weak in a lot of areas, including understanding what’s best for the world. So I chose to do it with God, because without God death is the end, but with God death is the beginning of something that God tells me is glorious for my dad. Without God, a burial is a permanent rest below, but with God a burial is temporary until my dad is raised up again. Without God, I don’t get to see my dad again, but with God, I get to see and hug and talk and kiss him again one day – so I chose with God. I wasn’t built to “deal” with death or loss, so God does it for me. He wraps up the confusion, the emptiness, and the heartache in perfect wisdom, love, and understanding and he hands it to me in every situation – when I’m strong and want to do everything that I think my dad would want me to accomplish and when I’m alone in my car, and a song that reminds me of him comes on and I break down and cry, God gives me exactly what I need at that moment. That doesn’t mean that it’s easier or hurts any less, it just means that I’m not alone and I know that I don’t have to deal with the “loss”, because it’s not a loss, it’s just a temporary separation.
Jason’s question for the next subject:
“What do you think your purpose here on earth is?”
Was needing a mental break from filling out applications, and came across this project. Of course the photography is brilliant but what really captures the heart is the ability to bring your audience into the lives and stories of these people. Where we the viewer can now sit back and say, "wow, that is what I am going through" or even just laugh with the subject. Either way the power of the story to invite you into a world that we would normally scan by is breath taking. Thank you for introducing me to more amazing people and bringing me into your community.
Great portraits, and i reallly like the concept.
The portrait of Andres Martinez is my favourite so far, but I'm hoping the series hasn't ended yet!
I did a watercolor study of it - I thought you might want to see it:
Anyway thanks for sharing your work - I'll be following!
What an interesting idea! Love some of the answer and questions that you get. Now if only I could thing of my own personal project. Thanks for sharing and for the inspiration!
Saw this project the other night ... really enjoying it. Great work and looking forward to many more installments.
this series is really inspiring Jeremy. I'm doing some portrait work right now, and it's intimidating asking even people I know to take their portrait. the fact that you're doing this with people that are mostly strangers is awesome. this really challenges me to just go for it.
@jeremycowart I love that idea Jeremy. It's so simple, but has the ability to be so profound. Mind if I start one of my own?
Really awesome series you have going on here Jeremy. When and if you ever finish this, you should definitely publish it as a book. It would be well worth the read.
I love the thought behind this project and I may actually steal this idea one day. I like the dialogue this opens and this allows for people to talk and express themselves. Also the images are unique and interesting.
It's really cool to see the way your mind works. This is such a cool way to connect a bunch of people together and show a community through people living different lives in different places.
I have a really interesting idea for this project. I'd love to talk to you about it and see if you agree and or see if you haven't already had this idea. You can find me at email@example.com
I hope to talk to you about this.
What a fantastic take on stranger portraits and I think the concept of creating the link between the strangers is brilliant. This has inspired me to get to ask questions in my own strangers project I am currently doing.
Jeremy, this is Fantastic. I think I might just have to co-opt it as I've been trying to figure out how to start taking more portraits.
@jeremycowart At the risk of sounding trite, love the new project Jeremy!
This is awesome. I don't even look at the photos (sorry) - just captivated by the answers and questions.
@jeremycowart love it bud
@JudsonCollier thank ya thank ya.
@jeremycowart .. Super idea to make a portrait project interesting and getting it to a different level that other portrait projects. I am looking forward to more questions & answers.I would really like to see a video showing how you get a stranger to talk, get to know him and work on the answer and question part + get to take a picture.
Love how this series isn't limited by the questions you, Jeremy, ask. Instead, the people you interview keep the conversation moving along with their individual perspectives. Reese just got real world wisdom and encouragement from someone she otherwise wouldn't have met. Also, shed a tear. Man, keep it going.
@jeremycowart just saw all these for the first time. great use of IG…any way to being in some depth to a casual medium is a good thing!
@ryanbooth thanks man. Means a lot coming from you…
Love this idea. Im going to take inspiration from this and create one too. Something different of course. everybody has some inspiration or words of wisdom, maybe something to do with that. Yesterday I met a man 82 yrs of age, retired at 32 to live a life of poverty. He makes jewelry. Peter. Im not inspired to live in poverty but Im inspired to take time for myself now.
@jeremycowart where can I find you?! I live in anchorage!\U0001f61d
@tiffany_houck I'll be on a cruise :)
@jeremycowart oh darn! Worth the try haha enjoy the cruise, love your work!!
@jeremycowart You did something amazing. Again. How do you keep people take these answers serious and honest? I tried something similar but it went really fast to people being 'funny' or unconcerned.