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
Slave labor children peer from behind a textile loom where they work in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India.
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.
“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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