DPP Home Profiles Jodi Cobb: Master Of Resonating Image

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jodi Cobb: Master Of Resonating Image

Longtime National Geographic staff photographer Jodi Cobb talks about the challenges of being a photo essayist in today’s environment that diminutively labels photographers as content providers

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Noted photojournalist and former National Geographic staff photographer Jodi Cobb uses the power of imagery to inform and, hopefully, affect the world. Opening Spread: Closeup of a geisha’s mouth, chin and neck in Kyoto, Japan.

Slave labor children peer from behind a textile loom where they work in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India.
It was everywhere. My email inbox got five or six copies, and the story was plastered all over Facebook and Twitter. Time Magazine ran the original story in the end of August, in the heat of summer and just as American college students returned to school: Heavy drinkers live longer than teetotalers. The accompanying photo showed two shirtless men carrying nine beers among them. And in the smallest print on the screen was the credit: Jodi Cobb, National Geographic Creative.

That photo, the new “face” of binge drinking, was only a small part of the greatest story ever told: love. In a February 2006 feature for National Geographic, Jodi Cobb explored the scientific stages of love—Attraction and Lust, Romantic Obsession and Long-Term Attachment—and compiled a photo essay, “The Thing Called Love.”

The essay took her all over the world to capture those effusive and fleeting moments of “love,” including to the beaches and beer-fueled parties of Cancún during Spring Break. That’s when she took the photo, a photo that didn’t run with the rest in the essay. And just a few days after the tossed-aside shot made its rounds on the Internet, I spoke with Cobb about her career, National Geographic and the photo essay.

A Japanese maiko, an apprentice geisha, rides in a car to an evening appointment.
Jodi Cobb spent most of her career as a staff photographer with National Geographic and was among the last kept on staff. Today, she works freelance assignments for the company as well as for National Geographic Assignment, which places photographers with commercial projects. The work—and its new stream of income—helps address one of her biggest concerns as the field makes dramatic changes. The rise of the digital era has created a huge demand for “content” with-out the institutional powerhouses, the likes of National Geographic and LIFE, that would pay for it.

“There was a point—when they stopped being photographs and started being ‘content,’ and we started being ‘content providers’—that got me worried for the future,” explains Cobb.

But for the burdens new media has placed on the photographer, it has created opportunities for the photo essayist. “Online is a great way to show photo essays,” she says. “There’s no limit to the number of photographs you can see; we aren’t limited by ink and paper, the amount of space.”
Online is a great way to show photo essays, she says. There’s no limit to the number of photographs you can see; we aren’t limited by ink and paper, the amount of space.
But a photo essayist like Cobb has to be concerned for how the work will get done, not just presented.

“A case in point would be the 21st century slaves story I did for National Geographic, the sale of human beings around the world,” adds Cobb. “The story got the biggest response in the history of National Geographic up to that time. It was a story that had been done in bits and pieces, about child labor, about organ trafficking. But no one had the resources that National Geographic did, to take all that time and go all over the world and put it in a global perspective. No one was as committed as National Geographic.”


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