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NG Live! With Photographer Jodi Cobb

By Rock Wheeler, NG Live

Rock Wheeler, photo courtesy of the author.

[Updated 2/7/2012]

If you believe in the power of photography to make a difference, you’ll have a chance to see it up close this Tuesday, February 7th.  That’s when Nat Geo Live! in Washington, D.C. kicks off a new season of Masters of Photography with Jodi Cobb, a renowned photographer whose work has been appearing in National Geographic magazine since 1976, most recently with the January 2012 cover story on twins.

At the live event, Cobb will show a selection of her most unforgettable images from her forthcoming retrospective “Uncovering Hidden Worlds.”  In a recent conversation, she recalled being part of a cohort of young photojournalists who redefined the art of photography at National Geographic.  “Most of us had come from newspapers, and we felt that we had been doing the same thing there – turning newspapers around with the photojournalist approach we were bringing.  When we ended up at Geographic, we brought that journalistic aesthetic.  We felt we were telling a story and not just illustrating the writer’s words.  Real people doing real things.  That was our mantra.”

"Veiled to all men beyond her family, a young Bedouin woman wears the classic face covering of her people. Given only passing mention by the Koran, Islam’s holy book, the veil is an ancient custom traced to India and Persia; it was adopted by Arabia’s nomadic tribes, which enforced a strict code of female modesty." Text from “Women of Saudi Arabia,” October 1987, National Geographic magazine. Photo by Jodi Cobb


After handling the dizzying variety of assignments that were sent her way by the Geographic’s editors, Cobb found her niche in stories that involved subcultures or lifestyles closed to outsiders. Getting access to places and situations that  powerful people don’t want seen takes daring and smarts – and being able to handle your camera when the opportunity to capture a critical image flashes by takes a sharp eye and cool hand, as well.  One of Cobb’s  most memorable experiences involved cracking what she calls “the ultimate closed world – human trafficking.”  Accompanied by a translator, she drove to a remote and highly guarded castle to interview a notorious war criminal known for human sexual exploitation . “The first place we went was behind the house where there were cages with pit bulls, tigers, bears – all sort of large animals – I thought that at any moment he could have me put into one of those cages.” Afterwards, on the long drive back to Sarajevo, “we just kept watching to see if we could shake the car that was following us.”

An image from Jodi's interview with a notorious war criminal known for human sexual exploitation. Photo by Jodi Cobb


But not all of the hidden worlds explored by Cobb are so dangerous . She’ll also share her images of the world of rock, including legends Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, captured by her in the 70s.  Just another type of subculture whose mysteries she was able to record on film.  “I always thought I would end up at Rolling Stone instead of National Geographic,” she confides. “That was the biggest surprise of my life!”

Masters of Photography—our flagship series each season—offer a unique chance for photography lovers to go beyond the printed page to experience more fully the creative visions, and hear the amazing behind-the-scenes stories of the world’s best photographers.