Eons of Earth

Cody Cobb

Photographer

As a landscape photographer and solo traveler, Cody Cobb elevates the immensity and grandeur of his subjects above all else, reminding viewers of the mystery that lies beyond the boundary of civilization.

What led you into photography?

I first started shooting to capture textures in abandoned buildings and weird swamps and things like that for digital art collages that I was making at the time. I was a bored teenager growing up in Louisiana. From then on it was always just a hobby, and to a certain degree still is. My full time career is in motion design, so photography is kind of an escape from being behind a computer screen all day. I’m definitely living in two different worlds. I’m constantly daydreaming about these places and when I finally get the chance to go experience them I want to bring something back. 

You recently had a solo exhibition of your work in Seattle entitled eons. Why did you call it that?

Eons is a small word that conveys an enormous passage of time. The immensity of that is contained in a word so small and simple. I think it captures what I’m trying to do visually, to somehow compress a massive amount of information and a geological time scale into something that’s easier to digest. 

These trips that you go on to capture the images are solo, extended expeditions. What is important to you about the way you travel?

The most important thing is that I’m usually by myself and I don’t really plan anything. I leave a lot up to being in the right place at the right time, to exploring and relying on intuition. I’ll go to the desert for instance, but find myself in Utah when I meant to be in Nevada. I’m looking at a map but not really putting any pins down for what’s in between what I know, just trying to see new areas that I haven’t been to before. Not having any sort of schedule is pretty liberating. I sleep in my car or in a tent so I’m never worried about needing to find a place to stay. It’s relaxing. Everything just unfolds as I go. Ultimately I’m at the mercy of lighting and weather regardless. You can’t really plan for that. You just have to allow yourself enough time to linger and let those things happen, and to recognize when those conditions are aligning. Listening is so important. There are trips I take where I don’t shoot a single frame. I always bring a camera, but I don’t always feel compelled to shoot. Recently I went to the Alpine Lakes here in Washington and all I did was sit by the lake. It was beautiful, but it was just nicer to sit next to it rather than try to force a photo out of that moment. 

I think that’s equally as interesting as your actual work because in an Instagram Age it’s so countercultural not to share everything you’re seeing and doing. We do all feel compelled to show something, to remind our social community that we have worth and value because of what we share or produce or even own.

I’m always trying to ignore that when I’m shooting, that aspect of having an ‘audience.’ I don’t think about who’s going to be looking at it to assess whether I’m a success or a failure. I was kind of concerned with how having the exhibition would affect my shooting experience. I wondered, if things don’t sell what is the value of my art? And would that affect the moments when I’m actually shooting? But it’s still just like it’s always been, being in the moment; just pure observation. Not overthinking it; not thinking about what it needs to be. Maybe it’s because it’s just so personal. It’s for me, in a way. 

What does it look like to travel and observe nature in that way? 

The first day is usually spent just thinking about myself, what’s going on in my life. It’s like a purge. I can only think about those things for so long before I sort of zone out. I go through a bit of a thought cycle about work and am I happy with what I’m doing and I sure do miss my family, I should spend more time with them. Those are the sorts of things that always come up. But I have this conversation over and over again until I start to slowly tune it out, until I’m just walking and observing. That’s the state that I try to get to, where I’m so bored with the conversations I’m having with myself that I can only look at the light hitting a tree or the bugs swarming around me. It becomes about the external versus the internal. That takes at least a full day or two to get out of my system. But once I’m in that state, it’s pretty much uninterrupted. I don’t even listen to music most of the time because I’m listening for rattlesnakes or wildlife. It forces an awareness. 

There is a stark absence of human beings in your work. Why is that?

Part of it is just the nature of being alone. I don’t know if it’s me being selfish and wanting to have a place all to myself or if there’s just something about not seeing any other people that enhances that sense of smallness and shift of perspective. I’ve been doing it that way for so long, around 10 years now. I’ve always been an introvert so it doesn’t seem that weird to me to be alone in that way. But also, without any humans visible in the work, it feels somehow outside of time. I like that. I think ultimately I’m trying to show this different perspective, almost this golden age of the planet by removing humans from it. 

It seems like that perspective shift takes the viewer from a human centric model of reality as a species to a more nature centric model of the universe. We think we’re at the center of everything until we’re in the wilderness or even just outside of ourselves for long enough and realize there is so much more than just us.

I think that’s the human experience. The way information is constantly being targeted at us these days it’s easy to understand why we so often revert back to thinking we’re the center of everything. The pace of the modern world is so opposed to what we feel in nature. Being in a place surrounded by things that take almost no notice of you whatsoever makes you realize we aren’t the center at all. We’re just a fleeting moment passing through this massive flow. And it’s out there, right now! It’s still so hard for me to think about the places I’ve been that have had such a big effect on me, that they’re still out there right now. Just being. But I forget about that. Maybe that’s why I’m taking photos of them so I won’t forget that so easily. I know in my mind that they’re out there, continuing to exist without anyone to witness them. They start to seem like a distant memory, almost like a dream. 

In addition to the absence of human beings in your work, you yourself are also absent. Can you talk about why that is important to you to have some anonymity?

One thing that I notice when I become familiar with an artist, is that I start seeing their work through their eyes. In some way I become aware of them and what I know about them when I’m looking at the work. Maybe just as an experiment – and because I’m really shy – I want that to be removed from my work. When people look at my work, I’d like them to see it through their own eyes, to feel like they themselves are actually there. I’d like to take myself out of that as much as possible, so I think having some mystery around that is a good thing. 

As someone who spends so much time in the natural environment, what do you think our relationship to nature should be?

In some ways everything that we interact with or make is nature. I think we should remove the dividing line between nature and technology or between nature and humanity that we’ve built up. Nature shouldn’t be designated as somehow outside of our everyday lives. It’s all part of the same matrix of existence. I’m very concerned about the climate and making sure that things remain habitable and comfortable, so generally I think that means we need to be treating the planet with more respect and not interfering so much. But that’s really what we do as humans: we interfere. I’m still very conflicted about my part in that, the way I affect the planet just by driving out to these places. There’s a spectrum of consciousness about your consumption, and I’m still operating within a system that requires I use a certain amount of resources to get there. 

Your work demonstrates an obvious affection for the places that you shoot. There’s no beating people over the head with some environmental agenda, but it does create a more thoughtful experience. It’s somewhere in the middle, with this tension on either side. Just look at this incredible world vs. looking at what we have to lose. 

I think about what these places will look like if I come back in 30-40 years. I’ve seen glaciers get smaller. I’ve seen lakes appear that didn’t exist 20 years ago, formed from a receding glacier. Even within my lifetime it’s crazy to see things that historically change on such a slow geological timescale, speeding up in the wrong direction. It’s just speculation and fantasy, but I like to picture million year time lapses when I’m in these different places, seeing the earth undulating and violently taking new forms. It’s fun to try and picture that landscape evolving over time, how it got to that point, knowing that I’m seeing this still slice of that between millions of years on either side of that moment. 

What do you hope people get out of your work?

In each of these photos I’m trying to make it feel like how it actually feels to be there, not just how it looks. To feel the scale of it; to feel almost this kind of confrontation.The immensity and terror of something that is so much bigger than us. Seeing that in person has real power. It’s like looking at a starry night sky and you get that stomach churning feeling deep down. It’s terrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time. It gives me an appreciation for what we are, how small we are. We are these beings that can actually sense our surroundings and think about things like the universe itself. I actually like feeling small, because I like how that shift in scale puts things in perspective. It’s a feeling I forget when I’m back inside, working. I lose that and I have to go again and again to get that back. They’re powerful experiences, so if a picture of a landscape can make someone feel even close to how I felt when I was there – if that can happen through a photograph – I think that’s really special. 

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