OKDOTHIS Creator Jeremy Cowart on Creativity Through Collaboration

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 All artists have the same endeavor – to make things based on their creative vision. The trick, however, to imagination and creativity, is that these two invaluable resources ebb and flow as they please. You can’t turn them on and off with the flip of a switch. Fortunately, professional photographer Jeremy Cowart developed an app that can jumpstart your creative juices in just a few seconds — by turning a local photo into an international idea catalyst. Meet OKDOTHIS — the photographer’s creative idea playbook and, just maybe, your new best friend.

To find out more about this game-changing app and how he manages to juggle family life, a professional photography career and Help-Portrait, we asked Jeremy to describe it in his own words. Enjoy.

How did you get the idea for OKDOTHIS?

I’ve done a lot of teaching, and whenever I teach, people always ask, ‘How do you know what to tell people?’ or ‘How do you know what to do?’ — and so I thought there should be an app for that. Originally, I thought it might be a Jeremy Cowart Idea app, but soon realized I didn’t have enough ideas to warrant an app. 3 ideas wouldn’t make for a great app 🙂 . So then I thought, what if it were more of a community tip bowl where everyone could pull from? That was the original idea and it grew from there.

Photography is not really a team sport. How do you think OKDOTHIS changes that? As an artist, is it important to you to be part of a creative community of people?

I think the industry is changing. Photography is becoming more of a team sport, in spirit; it’s becoming more community-driven every day with social media helping to facilitate that. The old guard of photography was very protective of their space and their style, but today the egos aren’t as bad.( At least from my perspective). The truth is, I’m never going to be you and you’re never going to be me. So let’s get over the egos and communicate with and better support each other

With OKDOTHIS, we found that it’s more than just sharing tips and ideas, it’s about sparking creativity. It pushes the idea that we are all unique — as everyone has their interpretation of each “do” and completes it in their own way. People who have not used the app might say ‘Oh, I already have my ideas, I don’t need that,’ but it’s not about copying other people’s ideas, it’s about giving you that spark to go out and do something amazing. Out of all the tens of thousands of users, no one is the same — and no one will create the same image. And by the way, we haven’t had a single active user complain that the app is about “stealing ideas”. It’s only outside people that have assumed that without trying it first.

Skeptics have said OKDOTHIS seems like a cover way to build a massive stock photo database. Can you explain how OK works, in regards to ownership of photos?

okdothis1First of all, we have no interest in owning photos. Every photographer on the app owns all of his or her own photos outright. As for building a stock database, that never crossed our mind. If we need photos for something, I am pretty sure I know a photographer or two that we could hire!

How does OKDOTHIS encourage creativity?

With OKDOTHIS, you get the opportunity to see how many ideas are truly out there and it rejuvenates you. It kills creative block. It gives you a reason to get out and create. I feel refreshed when I browse through all the “DOs” and those that have used the app feel the same way. I know because I see users tweeting that sentiment all the time. 

Any DO’s that stick out?

There’s one that’s really basic and interesting called ‘fill the frame with a circle.’ When you look at all the photos that have been submitted, it’s amazing to see all the different interpretations of a circle. It’s really fun and inspiring to watch a DO come to life.

Do you think a photograph is more of a representation of life or an illusion of it?

I think it can be both. It really depends on the photographer and the work. For someone who relies on or uses HDR, it might appear to be more of an illusion, but a lot of photos very much represent reality. There are infinite different style types in photography and it really depends on which one a photographer is using.

Jakarta by Jeremy Cowart
Jakarta by Jeremy Cowart

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken as a creative?

Each time I step out and try something new it’s a risk and it’s scary. One of the biggest was leaving my comfortable ad agency job in 2001 to start my own company. And each new project is a leap of faith, really. At the end of the day, I’d rather be taking risks than playing it safe.

Do you have any advice for those looking to make a leap of their own?

Fear of failure is normal. It’s about momentum and baby steps. I’ve built my career on babysteps, one project at a time. Now people see me as a big success, but I didn’t do anything crazy to get here — I just took it one step at a time. Anyone can do it, they just need to conquer fears and move forward.


How about work life balance? You have a family and yet you always seem to be juggling an incredible amount of projects like Help-Portrait What’s the key to that?

Number one, there’s no choice but to keep your family and home life as your number one priority. That should never change. When I’m home, I have a very traditional work schedule. I get home between 5-6 and the nights and weekends are spent with my family. Sure, there are emails I have to send, but for the most part my time while at home is dedicated to them. I do travel a bit, but not excessively. The key is to enjoy your family time and work your tail off during the hours that you are at work. I also have help, for example, at Help-Portrait, we have an awesome team of volunteer staff that are responsible for the survival of the movement. In regards to OKDOTHIS, my partners at Aloompa keep the machine running and I work remotely with them everyday. Coordinating all of that can be a challenge, but I do keep it within my working hours, away from family time.

Hope in the Dark by Jeremy Cowart
Hope in the Dark by Jeremy Cowart

What’s the value of personal work?

Help-Portrait was always more than a personal project. It was something to help others in need, but my personal projects abroad in Africa, Haiti, etc., have all lead to another branch of my career. Personal work is crucial. Most of us make a living with things we wouldn’t be doing in our spare time. It doesn’t thrill me to make pretty people look prettier, its not my ultimate goal in life, but you need to make a living and have the resources to do those meaningful personal projects.

Example of Jeremy's personal work
Example of Jeremy’s personal work

Lastly, who else has played a part developing OKDOTHIS?

I partnered with Aloompa and they have done a fantastic job bringing it to life. Incredible, really. It’s an honor to work alongside them.


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Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.