Today we interview Cody Cobb about his two main passions: trekking and photography.
Your pictures are portraits of the earth’s landscapes. When did you first start taking this kind of pictures and why were you drawn to them?
The lack of interesting abandoned buildings in Seattle motivated me to start spending more time in nature. I was really excited to experience the dramatic scale of mountains and old-growth forests. The fresh air was also a nice change from asbestos and mildew. Initially, I struggled to capture anything that represented what I was experiencing. Immediately reviewing, criticizing and deleting a photo was frustrating so I stopped bringing along camera gear. Without being weighed down by equipment and the preoccupation of making an image, I was able to move more freely.
It wasn’t until I started spending days and eventually weeks at a time in the wilderness that I was comfortable enough to bring a small point and shoot camera. With this, I could capture my observations without completely interrupting the experience.
Then, is trekking and climbing your real passion? What do you love about doing this?
Spending time in nature is more important to me than photography. The single-minded focus on simple tasks like following a route, finding water, gathering wood and setting up camp is therapeutic.
More than anything, I love being overwhelmed by the vastness of space while alone in the mountains on a clear night.
What do you feel when you walk in silence? Is it a kind of meditation for you ?
It always takes me a few days to feel fully immersed as my inward observations shift outwards. Anxiety still exists, but it feels a bit easier to confront. Maybe it’s because the stressors are obvious. I’m very aware that nature is unforgiving and uncontrollable, so I mitigate the risks or address them immediately. The anxiety in my city life seems so abstract and petty in comparison, yet it can persist and feel so much harder to resolve.
Can you tell me the essential equipment you usually take with you on your trips?
A map and compass, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first-aid, fire starter, nutrition, hydration, shelter. I also love the compact and weatherproof Yashica T4 for longer hikes. I also carry the heavier Voigtländer Bessa III on shorter treks.
Do you normally go on your trips by yourself or with people? Your pictures seem always so solitary…
Alone, mostly. I have a two very close friends whom I trust on more involved trips but they aren’t always able to join me. I would always hike with them if I could and would probably have less solitary photos as a result. It’s hard to convey the enormous scale of some landscapes without a human in the frame for reference.
What kind of landscapes do you like most, photography-wise?
I’m most drawn to landscapes featuring unique geomorphology. Volcanic landscapes are probably my favorite. The Cascade Range east of Seattle has ten volcanic formations and five of those are still active. Some of the most surreal places I’ve ever been are the pumice fields of Mount Adams and St. Helens.
And for trekking?
Dark, mossy forests in ancient valleys. I’m also strangely obsessed with following rivers to their sources.
Can you tell us which has been your most exciting trek so far?
I spent a month trekking in the Sierra Nevada range in California. Parts of it were completely off-trail, traversing endless fields of shattered granite at high elevations. It was beautifully stark, alien and inhospitable. It’s also the most alone I’ve ever felt.
Is there any place that was insurmountable?
My most memorable failure was an attempt to follow the Kalalau Stream back to the base of the valley’s headwall (22° 9.191′, -159° 37.723′). On paper, it was only 3 miles but the terrain was so rough and the vegetation was impossibly dense. I gave up after many hours of slogging and hauling myself up the sides of waterfalls using fixed (and rotting) ropes. There were rumors of a hermit who was living at the deepest part of the valley and it became my goal to find him. Sadly, I couldn’t even find evidence of his campsite. Maybe it’s best that his existence remains a complete mystery to me.
Any future destination you are longing a trip to?
I would really love to see the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. It’s considered one of the world’s most extreme deserts. That doesn’t seem very realistic for me right now but my list of destinations in the American West is almost dauntingly long at this point. The next trek I’m planning is the Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon. I’m hoping to head down there in April.
Do you think that your pictures manage to capture the essence of the places you’ve been?
My photos are very personal interpretations of how I remember the places feeling. I’m always really curious as to what my photography communicates to others without my own personal context.
The majority of my photos attempt to show a landscape as it could have existed millions of years ago. The rest feature the awkward objects humans have inserted into them.
If you weren’t taking pictures of landscapes, would you still be a photographer?
Sure, photography is one of the more effective forms of self-expression for me. My chosen subject matter is just a reflection of whatever I’m interested in at the moment. I expect it to change at some point, so who knows what I’ll be photographing then.