This Photographer Wanders for Weeks Alone in North America’s Wilderness

Often spending long stretches of time alone in the wilderness with just a camera, Seattle-based photographer Cody Cobb has really gotten to know nature’s emotional qualities. His version of landscape photography is shown as a way of life in his series, Cascadia – all photographs of the North American wilderness. Within each of Cody’s images of Cascadia are two landscapes: the first, one of external, natural beauty, and second, one of internal solitude.


Cody’s work in both analogue and digital photography has been published and exhibited all over the world. He is celebrated for his ability to communicate his experiences of nature with sensitivity and vividness. His photographs are especially striking to audiences for whom nature may remote. And remote they are – with (almost) no human trace, Cascadia is an inhabited landscape of mountains, boulders, cliffs, forests, lakes and rivers.

But most of all, what Cascadia reveals is the intimate relationship that Cody has forged with this region of the United States. The series treat Cascadia’s nature as a character itself. Viewers may empathise with Cascadia, as, a little like ourselves, it may appear calm when photographed, but it too lives in a perpetual state of emotions – at times chaotic – in reality.


We touched base with the wilderness wanderer to ask some questions.

THE PLUS: You describe nature as chaotic but, in your photographs, it appears very tranquil. Can you tell us about the balance between the two?
Cody Cobb:
I always find it difficult to capture wilderness in a way that does it any justice. The emotions I experience while alone in such big places can be so profound, but to represent that in a two-dimensional slice is a challenge. It doesn’t seem to get any easier, to be honest. Every environment has a new set of variables to take into consideration, such as dense vegetation blocking a view or rock formations casting odd shadows.
I think what I’m trying to do, through isolation and immersion, is to be as sensitive as possible to my surroundings in order to find the moments where light and geometry play nicely with one another. Reducing a landscape of incredible complexity down into something visually soothing and minimal seems to allow for a more contemplative viewing experience. I think this allows for the emotion of a place and time to bubble up to the surface.


TP: What do you like about the region Cascadia?
Cascadia is a region in the Pacific Northwest of North America with very loosely defined borders. I prefer a broader conception that includes Northern California all the way up into British Columbia. This stretch of land is so incredibly diverse, with rugged coastlines transitioning into dense rainforests, mysterious valleys into the volcano dotted Cascadia range, then arid scrublands and canyons of flood carved basalt. I could happily spend the rest of my life living in and exploring this area, seeing something new on every outing.


TP: What’s the longest trip in the wilderness you’ve been on?
My longest backpacking trip was roughly a month spent walking alone in the Sierra Nevada range of California while my longest road-trip was about three months between Washington and Louisiana. I sleep in the back of my car and have developed a pretty good system for keeping things tidy and comfortable.


TP: How much equipment do you take with you on your trips?
I try to keep it limited to a single film camera paired with a digital camera. I love the combo of a Ricoh GR digital and a 4×5 view camera or Mamiya 7II. I’m always experimenting with different combinations and it really depends on the demands of the trip itself. Since I’m carrying photo equipment, I try to keep my trekking gear as light as possible.


TP: Do you prefer analogue or digital for landscape photography?
Honestly, I love them both which is why I bring one of each. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s always a consideration that is made in accordance with the light.


TP: What in nature excites your photographic imagination the most?
I’ll never get over the feeling of looking up at the night sky and being struck by the immensity of our situation of being a brain inside of a human on a planet in this universe. As clichéd as that might sound, it gets me every single time.


TP: Do you always go on your excursions alone?
Generally, yes. As much as I enjoy being around the people I love, I think it has become such an important part of my process. I’m fascinated by the idea of solitary confinement in very large places and what it does to your perceptions, both internal and external. It’s not just solitude I’m seeking, it’s all of the emotions that come with it from loneliness and anxiety to exaltation and awe.