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

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Child laborers in Firozabad, India, work long days fusing glass bangles over gas burners.
For that essay, published in September 2003, Cobb worked for a year researching and traveling. She spent more than 12 weeks in 12 different countries. The spread demonstrated how Cobb is able to slip into the background and observe appalling conditions, unusual rituals and extreme conditions, and capture a story that’s profound and high-impact.

Cobb provides more than just content—she’s a storyteller. She has captured scenes in more than 65 countries, telling more than 30 stories for National Geographic and her books, diving headfirst into completely foreign cultures. She describes a quintessential experience from the geisha project that illustrates her process of discovery and how that process enables her to find the story.

“I jumped into the geisha world completely and ignorantly, and I tried to muddle my way through,” Cobb shares, “finding what I think journalists, whether writers or photographers, seek out while trying to illuminate or explain things that the viewer or reader will never experience themselves.”

A weeping bride in a car with her groom kisses her mother goodbye in Rajasthan, India.
Cobb is in pursuit of the photos that will sear into our consciousness and resonate for generations. “It used to be that you’d see a single image everywhere at the same time and it would hit the collective consciousness,” she says while recollecting about the influence of magazines like LIFE and National Geographic, in general, and the Eddie Adams’ photo of the execution of Nguyen Van Lem in Vietnam, in particular, “how that photo helped end the war in Vietnam. And now I think the only image we’ve seen in years like that one—an image that took our breath away—was the Abu Ghraib photograph.”

Cobb’s drive to create photos that will etch into your mind and speak to you for days is evident in all of her projects. She isn’t a casual observer or a run-of-the-mill investigative journalist. She’s a well-trained artist and an experienced storyteller who’s hoping her images will move you and help you create your own conclusions, and then you’ll want to share the story with the next person. Think of her images of boys in India being held as slaves to make rugs and carpets or young women throughout Eastern Europe and Asia being traded like a commodity in the sex industry. These are important photographs that shine light on aspects of the human condition and give a voice to a story that just isn’t being told elsewhere.

Spring Break on the beach in Cancún, Mexico, where coeds party down and look for hookups.
“Which brings us back to the photo essay and why it exists: to tell a story,” adds Cobb. She believes in the power and influence of the photograph and its profound ability to connect an audience to the subject. Her photo essays weave the subtleties of that story in a few decisive photographs.

“A 3,000-word article on love provides the information and the writer’s perspective,” Cobb says. “Fifteen photos telling the story allow the reader to completely and succinctly assimilate the information. You can be told that men like a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 [from her exposé on love], or you can look at the photo and figure it out yourself, and allow your own experience to come to bear.”

Experience. That’s really what we’re left with when we look back over one of Cobb’s photo essays. Whether she’s telling the story of modern slavery, the science of love or the mysterious world of geisha, Cobb takes us into places we have never seen, and maybe have never heard of, and leaves us with an enduring image.

To see more of Jodi Cobb’s photography, visit www.jodicobb.com.


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