Jodi Cobb, National Geographic Photographer
Author of “Geisha: The Life, the Voices, the Art”
February 08, 2001
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How many people go with you on your photo assignments?
On most assignments, I travel by myself. I travel to the country by myself and then hire a local interpreter, and a driver to get me around. Sometimes I work with a writer, but not very often. We find that working loosely together is better than traveling side by side, since we have different concerns. Writers hate to wait for the perfect light, and photographers hate to wait for the perfect quote.
Do you ever find in other countries that you are treated differently because you are a female photographer? If so, does this present any problems, or inhibit your work?
Every culture is different. They are different in their attitudes towards women. In some cultures, it's a distinct advantage to be a woman, because you are perceived as less of a threat, and tend to be more welcomed into people's homes. But in other cultures, the fact that you're perceived as less of a threat means that you're not taken as seriously. Therefore, it's more difficult when you want to get out of the homes and into the corridors of power. The Middle East is interesting, because as a Western woman, you're almost treated as a third gender, because they don't quite know what to do with you. So you're able to move freely among both the men and women, which came as a surprise to me when I got there.
Women In Photography:
Jodi, WIPI.org has been proud to review the National Book and other things you have accomplished
Thank you. I'm proud to be a woman in photography.
GSP Photo Guy:
Hi, Jodi. Do you photograph while on vacation? If so, how are they different from your work photos?
I don't know what a vacation is. Could you please explain the concept? (smile) I spent three years of my vacation time photographing geisha. It seems every time I try to take a vacation, work gets in the way. I firmly intend to try it in the future, preferably a sailboat with nothing on the horizon but blue, which doesn't make very good pictures.
When traveling and you want to photo the essence of a country or natives, how do you avoid the tourist routes/standard shots?
The first rule is to get off the tourist track, and definitely get off the tour bus. The key, again, is to take the time to go down roads that the tourists never venture. It always helps to have a local person as your guide, and you start by asking to visit their home. With most stories, I do a great amount of research before I go, so I know what the clichés are in order to avoid them, or to try to do them in a different way. Also, by extensive research, I can find interesting places to go that might not be in anyone's guidebook.
Where are some of the most interesting places you've been to get these great pictures?
Thanks for the compliment, again. The most interesting places are usually not the most comfortable or beautiful. I was lucky enough to be one of the first photographers to cross China when it first re-opened to the West. I made an 8,000-mile trip down to the Burma border and the Vietnamese border, and I found it absolutely fascinating. That was 20 years ago. I've been back since, and the changes are enormous. So I feel lucky to have been there at that moment, before any of the Western culture had permeated their society. Another favorite place was Jerusalem, during a great period of unrest on the West Bank, and during the invasion of Lebanon. It was a very passionate place, and it stirs all your emotions, and all your passions. I've worked in 50 countries, and it's hard to pick out favorites from them. My actual favorite place was French Polynesia (Tahiti and Bora Bora), and I fell in love with the place. My pictures were pretty lousy, though, because it was just so wonderful to be there. It didn't put you in the mood to work.
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