November 23, 2016, a fire started along the Chimney Tops 2 that would spread throughout Gatlinburg and become the worst fire in Tennessee of the last 100 years. It claimed 14 lives and 2,000 homes and businesses. More than half of the city of Gatlinburg was destroyed, according to Mayor Mike Warner.
Nashville-based photographer Jeremy Cowart assembled a crew of volunteer friends who traveled to the region to assist in creating a series of images that would draw awareness to the fire’s victims and their current needs.
With the help of Mayor Warner, Cowart and his volunteer staff traveled to victims’ homes and businesses, carting a crisp white mattress, lighting equipment and a drone. Using a camera attached to the drone, they photographed families on a white mattress in the dark rubble of their destroyed homes and broadcast their stories and needs to the world by sharing their GoFundMe campaign pages.
Shot over the course of nearly a week, December 14-20, “Voices of Gatlinburg” drew nationwide media attention toward recovery efforts for area families.
See more by following the hashtag #voicesofgburg on social media.
Named the “Most Influential Photographer on the Internet” by Huffington Post, Forbes and Yahoo, Jeremy Cowart is a husband, a dad, an Emmy-nominated celebrity photographer, an entrepreneur, and a teacher whose passion is finding the intersection of art and helping others.
Cowart’s work includes portraits of Sting, Heidi Klum, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Bryan, The Kardashians, Brad Paisley, Ryan Seacrest, Carrie Underwood, and Taylor Swift. His clients include ABC, FOX, A&E, F/X, Discovery Channel, ESPN, People, US Weekly, VIBE, E!, Universal Records, Sony Records and Warner Brothers Records.
In 2016, his work on a campaign for St. Thomas Hospital was nominated for an Emmy Award, a video telling his life’s story hit more than 2.5 million views, and he crowdfunded the launch of a new project, The Purpose Hotel, in which every element of the hotel is connected to a cause.
“Voices of Gatlinburg” was inspired by “Voices of Haiti,” a photo essay from January 2010, when Cowart traveled to the region following the devastating earthquake. The series featured portraits of Haitian people writing their thoughts and prayers on found rubble. This project was displayed prominently at the entrance of a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in March of 2010. That day, they pledged $10 billion dollars to the recovery effort.
In August of 2011, Jeremy traveled to Rwanda with filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson to document survivors and perpetrators of genocide who have reconciled and live life together peacefully in the same community. The portraits in “Voices of Reconciliation” captured genocide survivors standing with the killers of their families, who they’ve now forgiven. Many of the portraits were captured at the scene of the crime to help display the power of true forgiveness. The series was featured on CNN.com as a worldwide leading headline on November 7, 2011.
Cowart lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife and four children, two of whom were recently adopted from Haiti.
You can follow Jeremy on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook