Jodi Cobb: Nat Geo photographer talks at Broad Stage

The atmosphere was buzzing around the Broad Stage at Santa Monica College's Performing Arts Campus last Thursday evening. The audience members, many of whom dressed up for the occasion, slowly gazed upon the books featuring some of the work that the night’s guest speaker has done.

Jodi Cobb is an icon. She has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, she has worked in over 60 different countries, and she became the first female staff photographer at National Geographic.

Cobb has long had a passion for discovering hidden worlds. She has been able to enter places, speak to people and capture moments that no other photographer has been able to.

But still, Cobb manages to remain humble. When she walked on to the Broad Stage a little before 8 p.m., her charm and calm nature instantly became evident.

Cobb spoke of how she got started in photography and showed the audience pictures of several famous musicians that she once managed to get very close to.

But from there, Cobb’s career changed remarkably. She was sent out into different parts of the United States and into the world, and went from shooting huge crowds at rock concerts to shooting vast, empty landscapes with no people as far as the eye could see.

Being so isolated was tough on Cobb, but when National Geographic sent her on assignment to Israel she gradually started realizing what she was really passionate about.

For the first time, she found herself in real danger. The Israel- Palestine conflict erupted into violence and Cobb was finally shooting things that she felt could have an impact on the world.

Cobb’s will to change the world stayed with her, and she went to Saudi Arabia to photograph the lives of women there. This would prove to be a challenging task.

Photographing women at this time in Saudi Arabia was very taboo, and required permission from a man in the depicted woman’s life, permission that was denied most of the time.

She also ventured into the world of geishas in Japan. It took her a long time to earn the trust of these women, but she was given a glimpse into their everyday lives and the real meaning of their place in society.

“It’s so inspirational,” said audience member Diane Bass after Cobb’s presentation. “She really is the definition of independent.”

The independence and drive in Cobb has given her the chance to cover realities that are just as disturbing as they are fascinating.

One project that she undertook was unveiling the world of human trafficking. Just like many other scenes that crossed Cobb’s path, seeing the abuse and enslavement of children and women affected her deeply.

A trip to Venice, Italy eventually changed Cobb's course once more. When she was photographing the city, she started to notice the beautiful reflections in the canals.

This was not part of her assignment, and she knew that National Geographic would not be interested in the pictures, but shooting the reflections that took on the shapes of dragons over the water was a kind of therapy for Cobb.

It was then that Cobb started to take photographs that captured serenity and the beauty of the world.

“So perhaps I didn’t change the world,” Cobb said at the end of her presentation. “But the world definitely changed me.”

Cobb also shared another thought with the audience during her presentation. It is a motto that has stayed with her through the years. To this day, she still asks herself, “What can I do today that I haven’t done before?”