Originally from Louisiana, Cody Cobb’s passion for travel photography only emerged once he’d moved to the Pacific Northwest. For him, travel is more about the experience than the photography. His trips take him alone into the American West, where he often journeys without an idea of an end, living under basic conditions. He comments,
‘Even the anxiety I feel when hungry or cold seems more meaningful than the anxiety I experience in civilization.’
Cody Cobb’s images are about these moments of solitude. They take us away from humans, to a place of serenity that is seemingly timeless. His photographs explore ‘stillness in geological chaos,’ capturing a moment of order in a constantly changing landscape.
Cody’s images show us how beautiful it can be to disappear into the wilderness, leaving the human-made world behind. He tells us, ‘I like to wait before I develop my film, so the experience feels like a distant dream by the time I look at my photos,’ and it is this surreal and otherworldly atmosphere that his photographs so beautifully capture.
Chroma talks to Cody Cobb about Absence, Timelessness and Geographic Chaos
Firstly, could you introduce yourself in a few sentences?
My name is Cody Cobb, and I live in the Pacific Northwest. I love to spend time alone in the wilderness. Sometimes I bring a camera, but mostly I just like to look and listen.
How did your move to the Pacific Northwest influence your photography?
Before moving to Seattle, I spent very little time in nature. I'd seen brief glimpses of it while growing up in Louisiana, but I didn't have much of an interest. The outdoors seemed like a backdrop for hunting and fishing, so I stayed inside.
Hiking up to a massive glacier on Mount Rainier for the first time was an incredible experience. I'd never had my sense of scale distorted like that. Over the next ten years, I was able to push into more remote areas of the American West and experience actual solitude. It's a unique feeling that most humans don't get to experience, much less enjoy.
Your images have a gorgeous painterly quality to them, are you inspired by any Art Movements?
I find inspiration in many different types of art, from ancient petroglyphs to video games, but I'm particularly fond of the quality of light as rendered by the artists of the Hudson River School. I'd say my compositions are more directly inspired by the New Topographics movement though.
In your photographs, there is a sense of absence, both of people and of animals. Are you trying to make a point about how humans have separated themselves from nature? How does it feel when returning to civilisation? Do you notice this disconnection?
Honestly, I try not to embed too much meaning into my photos. I love to hear how other people interpret them though. To me, they are very personal snapshots of places that still don't seem real. I like to wait before I develop my film, so the experience feels like a distant dream by the time I look at my photos.
I love photos of people, especially from photographers like Bryan Schutmaat and Gregory Halpern. The humans they shoot feel like they are made from the same material as the places they inhabit. I just don't find myself running into too many people during my travels, sadly.
Reintegrating into civilisation is so incredibly tough even after just a week alone in the wilderness. Going into a grocery store for the first time is where I first notice how overwhelming it is. I feel completely bombarded by unfamiliar shapes, sounds, and colours.
This absence also creates a sense of timelessness; as if these photographs could have existed before and after us. How important is this feeling to you?
That feeling of timelessness is such an important part of what I want to capture in these landscapes. It's such a staggering feeling to find yourself in a place that appears to exist millions of years in the past (or future). To feel like a lone, alien observer on a planet of billions of humans, which are nowhere in sight, is so strange. I'm also fascinated by the Christian concept of rapture, so I like shooting places that look like all the humans have been plucked away.
Are you scared about what the future holds and whether these landscapes could be lost?
How does your work as a Graphic Designer influence your photography?
My sensitivity to colour, geometry, and composition has been tuned by my practice as a designer. I rely almost entirely on intuition when it comes to both photography and design.
You've commented that you aim to capture ‘stillness in geological chaos’. What exactly do you mean by this? What is it that inspires you to take a shot?
I always try to imagine a landscape as a time-lapse on a geologic timescale. I envision violent thrusting, undulation, and erosion on that scale. My photography is my attempt to find structure and order where there is none. I like to find subtle alignments in these jumbles of rock and vegetation. It's been a challenge to find a quiet moment in such visually noisy places.
I'm only inspired to shoot when I feel moved by the place I'm observing.
You often go on these photographic journeys on your own. Why is this and what is this experience like?
Typically, I don't plan out my journeys. It's hard for friends to join me if they don't know when they'll be back. I also get very self-conscious if I feel like I'm taking someone out to what will ultimately be a dead-end.
I sleep in my car for weeks at a time, so it'd be very uncomfortable with another person. My trips are defined by mild discomfort regarding sleep, hunger, and hygiene, but also I get to experience some of the most incredible stretches of land in the American West.
There is a sense of melancholy to your pieces, is it important that your images capture a certain emotion?
I've experienced some pretty deep periods of depression throughout my life, so it's only natural that it finds a way into my work. Photography allows me to document my internal interpretation of the external. I like how it feels to be alone (or lonely) and small. Even the anxiety I feel when hungry or cold seems more meaningful than the anxiety I experience in civilization. If I can capture something that makes someone feel something, even melancholy, I think I've succeeded. It's difficult to convey emotion with landscape photography.
And finally, what do you want the viewer to take from your images?
Respect and wonder for the outside world.
words: Emma Phillips