As a Seattle-based 3D animation artist, Cody Cobb spends most of his working life behind a computer. Around a decade ago, feeling the need for an escape valve, he started going on solo camping trips around the Pacific Northwest on the weekends. As he ventured farther and farther afield, those weekend trips turned into week-long excursions, which turned into month-long odysseys. “I discovered that there’s this whole other world out there, and it’s so accessible,” Cobb says.
Cobb began taking landscape photographs during these trips, at first with a basic 35-mm point-and-shoot camera. Subconsciously, he found himself “designing” his photographs the same way he designed his computer animations. “They were influenced by all the time I spend manipulating geography, arranging shapes and colors. That part of my brain doesn’t shut off when I’m outside.” With influences ranging from abstract expressionism to contemporary photographers like his friend Reuben Wu, Cobb’s dreamlike work soon attracted critical attention—in 2018 he was named one of PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch.
Last winter, Cobb, who has dealt with depression all his adult life, suffered a major depressive episode during a two-month-long solo trip through California and Utah. Unable to sleep at night, he began exploring places like Death Valley in a semi-delirious state, getting purposely lost and shooting what he found with a Fujifilm GFX50, using light from a headlamp and A few small LEDs with colored gels. “I would just wander and encounter shapes,” he says. When he got back to Seattle, he created the final photographs by compositing together multiple exposures of the same scene to ensure the right light balance.
The resulting images are hallucinatory in their intensity, evoking a fever dream or a psychedelic trip—an effect created in part by the absence of shadows, a trick Cobb learned from 3D modeling. The series, appropriately titled Dark Side, also reflects Cobb’s psychological state at the time. “Allowing myself to be lost and vulnerable when I shot these was pretty important,” he explains. “It was so cold, and I was deliberately fasting because I seem to get my best shots when I’m slightly hungry. It heightens all my senses.”
Last winter’s depressive episode marred what is usually a therapeutic exercise for Cobb. That’s why, despite the bad experience, he plans to continue taking multi-month solo trips. “I kind of need those solitary journeys,” he says. “It’s not always a comfortable thing to do. It’s lonely, it’s hard to plan, and it takes a lot of effort—but it’s worth it.”
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