‘The camera is really like a passport’

By on July 29, 2023

Lauren in front of her first nationwide Hennessy campaign. (Photos courtesy Lauren Cowart)
A shot from her first Wrangler fashion campaign. (Photos courtesy Lauren Cowart)
Wedding and behind-the-scenes shot of Cowart with Javan and Rebekah Cross. (Photos courtesy Lauren Cowart)
Cowart was the only woman in a group of photographers taking pictures at the UNC game (Photos courtesy Lauren Cowart)
Cowart took this shot of Vice President Harris for Glamour Magazine. (Photos courtesy Lauren Cowart)
Lauren with Megan Thee Stallion and the official shot she took of her. (Photos courtesy Lauren Cowart)
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Manteo High grad Lauren Cowart travels the world for her craft

When local photographer Lauren Cowart bought a simple point-and-shoot camera during high school, she used herself as her first subject. High school is not an easy time for young women, or anyone, to feel secure in themselves, and during those formative years, it was a way to find her self-confidence.

“That’s a weird time to be growing up,” said Cowart, adding that having moved to the Outer Banks in middle school, she really didn’t feel like she belonged. “So I feel like I affirmed my self- esteem through photography. It allowed me to see myself a bit more accurately. We didn’t have smart phones and selfies back then, so it was kind of like discovering yourself through a camera, but a very low quality one,” she laughs.

Now, as an accomplished photographer with over a decade of experience in everything from portrait to commercial to celebrity photography, Cowart travels the world hoping to help others discover that same beauty and self-confidence within themselves.

Cowart got her start at Sound to Sea, the school newspaper at Manteo High School (MHS), which she attended from 2001-2005. She was the lifestyle editor and spent her time walking the halls, taking photos of students and documenting different fashions and trends. “It was my everything, honestly. It was where I put all of my creative energy,” she said.

Robin Sawyer, her journalism teacher at MHS, remembers the moment when she knew Lauren was meant to be a journalist. According to Sawyer, the journalism department had just bought a new digital camera and all of the students were fascinated with it. Cowart asked if she could take it to film the school play.

“And her pictures were fantastic. It was like she got bit by the bug—you know what I mean?” recalled Sawyer. “I think the instant gratification of taking the picture and seeing it, and taking the picture and seeing it, really lit a fire inside of her so that she wanted to really focus more and more on photography.”

When Cowart got into UNC-Chapel Hill, Sawyer encouraged her to join The Daily Tar Heel, the independent newspaper run by UNC students—which Cowart did.

“And then I noticed I was just getting to do really cool things that I would never normally do. Like, I remember, I had an assignment one morning where I was face down on my stomach with the ROTC while they were doing training, and I was taking pictures with them…I would never be normally doing this,” she recounted.

Cowart started taking pictures of more and more things that interested her and piqued her curiosity, like live performances, the dance team, acapella groups and Black sorority and fraternity life and posted them on Facebook. Her senior year she got hired by WRAL, a major Raleigh-based news organization, to take pictures of the UNC basketball games.

“I remember one of my teachers saying that the camera is really like a passport,” said Cowart. “So I started to kind of just, bring my camera everywhere.”

Now, well into her career, that passport has led her all over the world, to shooting documentaries in Kenya, to celebrity-filled red carpets in New York City, to private jets to NBA All Star Weekends, and most recently to the home of Vice President Kamala Harris to shoot a women’s history month event for Glamour Magazine.

Cowart credits her success and connections to her network of supporters at UNC who helped spread the word about her photography when she was getting started. When she was a senior, she put up flyers and advertisements for graduation photos. It blew up. Students she had photographed in the acapella groups, dance teams and Greek life all started reaching out wanting her to take their pictures. These same students told their friends, who told their friends.

Many of those same students have continued going back to Cowart for all the big moments in their life, from engagements and weddings to pregnancies and to family photos.

“I was starting to like build that kind of connection with people and use photography, not only to make money and document important moments, but also to…tell stories for people, like, friends of mine and their lives and…to be like that keeper of the memories in that way,” said Cowart. “It’s been really beautiful. So I have multiple people and couples in my life that I’ve been able to revisit that are so special.”

Javan and Rebekah Cross are two of those people. Cowart photographed them while they were both in an acapella group at UNC. Once they got together, they came back to her for engagement, wedding, pregnancy and family photos with their daughters.

Rebekah Cross says Cowart has a keen eye for beauty, can see things that others can’t and takes pictures that are not only beautiful, but meaningful.

“What makes her special is her personality, and the way that she connects with people, and her deep desire to learn and to grow and to evolve. And I’ve seen that, throughout her photography, I’ve seen her photography evolve as she has evolved—spiritually, mentally, intellectually. And that has really played a part in why we always want to come back to her,” she said.

Part of Cowart’s learning process was a big move to New York City in 2013. It was a North Carolina connection that led to Cowart’s first big advertising gig with Hennessy, the famous cognac brand, right after moving.

“I got to go work with Hennessy and photograph [professional boxing champion] Canelo Alvarez, who was like, the highest paid athlete in the world. And I got to take pictures of him in the cellars in Cognac, France as an advertisement and started doing more of that kind of stuff.”

Cowart says working in that high-powered world was scary initially, and up until recently it was hard to not feel imposter syndrome. “It was just such a big shift and jump. But then I started to do more events where there will be celebrities, and then, you know, it was cool to be like, ‘Oh, well, I’ve been doing this long enough that I’m trusted in these rooms.’”

She says two recent events—taking the private jet with Hennessy to the NBA All Stars Weekend, and shooting the Glamour spread at the vice-president’s residence— made her think “’Ok, this is fire, like, I deserve to be here. And once I was able to shift the mindset into just being excited, it changed everything.”

Referring to that shift, Cowart says she adopted a number of practices, including positive affirmations, meditation and breathwork. And she tries to help others heal from their own insecurities through her photography. Recently she was at a fancy event with everyone dressed to the nines. She saw a woman sitting over on the side with crutches and asked to take her picture.

“She was so excited. She was like, ‘Yes, thank you. I’m dressed up. I’m still cute.’”

“I try to fill the vibe and look for laughter, follow the giggles and be cognizant of insecurities,” noted Cowart. “I always try to ask people what’s their good side and just try to make people feel like they’re seeing the best version of themselves, and just try to look at people through a lens of love.”

Rebekah Cross says these traits make Cowart an exceptional photographer.

“I think that’s what makes her a very special person. And also allows her to capture photos of people that other people can’t capture, because she’s so open. And she is so non-judgmental,” she said. “And she makes you feel very comfortable in anything and everything that you do, and she wants to get the right shot, she wants to see you in your best light, she wants you to love the shot.”


Barnhill Contracting Company will receive sealed proposals for Manns Harbor – EMS/Fire Facility (EMS-8), Kitty Hawk – EMS/Fire Facility (EMS-9), Manteo – Youth Center on January 09, 2024. Times to be given on via addendum #01. See the following SCOPE OF WORK: BP 100 – General Trades, BP 105 – Final Cleaning, BP 205 – Demolition, BP 390 – Turnkey Concrete, BP 400 – Turnkey Masonry, BP 500 – Turnkey Structural Steel & Misc. Steel, BP 505 – Light Gauge Metal Trusses, BP 740 – Roofing, BP750 – Siding, BP 790 – Caulking/Sealants, BP 800 – Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware/Toilet Specialties/Accessories/Division 10, BP 840 – Curtainwall/Storefront/Glass/Glazing, BP 925 – Drywall/Framing, BP 960 – Resilient Flooring/Carpet/Base/Epoxy, BP 980 – Acoustical Ceilings, BP 990 – Painting and Wall Coverings, BP 1230 – Finish Carpentry and Casework, BP 1250 – Window Treatments, BP 2100 – Fire Protection, BP 2200 – Plumbing, BP 2300 – HVAC, BP 2600 – Electrical, BP 3100 – Earthwork/Turnkey Site, BP 3213- Site Concrete, BP 3290 – Landscaping. Scopes of work may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager.

Bid Location and Time: Bid opening will be held in the Barnhill Contracting Rocky Mount Training & GPS Technology Room: 800 Tiffany Bvld, Rocky Mount, NC 27804. Time is as follows: January 09, 2024 at 10:00am and 2:00pm. Times per packages to be given on via addendum #01.

Barnhill Contracting Company will receive, open, and read publicly all bids received in person in the Training & GPS Technology Room at the main office and listed with the virtual viewing at the link to be posted on Barnhill’s Plan Room.

Bids will not be accepted from bidders that are not pre-qualified. No facsimile or email submissions are permitted. Sealed bids are to be hand delivered to the bid opening location noted above or mailed Sealed Bids can be delivered before 9:00am the day of the bid to the Barnhill Contracting Company Office at 800 Tiffany Blvd., Suite 200 Rocky Mount, NC 27804. Attention “Clint Hardison.”

The pre-bid meeting will be held in Person & Zoom Meeting on December 06, 2023 at 10:00 am at the Barnhill Contracting’s Rocky Mount Main Conference Room: 800 Tiffany Bvld, Rocky Mount, NC 27804.

The pre-bid meeting link can be located on Barnhill’s online Building Division Plan Room ( https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b) and below. A preferred brand alternates meeting will be held via the same link at the end of the Prebid meeting.

Bid Documents can be viewed or downloaded through Barnhill’s online Building Division Plan Room (https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b) after 12/04/2023.

All Bidders are strongly encouraged to include opportunities for HUB participation wherever possible in their respective Bid submission.  HUB participation is a part of this contract and must comply with all requirements set forth in the Bid Documents.

The Construction Manager and Owner reserve the right to add pre-qualified bidders. The Construction Manager and Owner reserve the right to reject any and all bids. Should you require additional direction, please call Barnhill Contracting Company, (Clint Hardison – 252-802-0740).

Clint Hardison is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Dare EMS – Phase 2 Pre-Bid Conference

Time: Dec 6, 2023 10:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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  • M

    What a great story!

    Sunday, Jul 30 @ 7:42 am
  • Drew C. Wilson

    Go Lauren!!! Proud of you!!!

    Sunday, Jul 30 @ 12:07 pm