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Dance of the Ages, Kyoto, 1993. Photo by Jodi Cobb.

Jodi Cobb: Stranger in a Strange Land at the National Arts Centre—03.03.20

By Leah Geller on February 28, 2020


Dance of the Ages, Kyoto, 1993. Photo by Jodi Cobb.

A staff photographer for more than three decades with the National Geographic, Jodi Cobb has worked in more than 65 countries, lifting the curtain on worlds otherwise closed to outsiders.

Her travels have revealed hidden societies: she was the first to record Japan’s secret geisha society and her 2003 National Geographic article, “21st Century Slaves,” exposed human trafficking to the world. She was the first woman named White House Photographer of the Year.

Photographer Jodi Cobb. Photo by Rebecca Hale.

Jodi Cobb comes to the National Arts Centre on Tuesday March 3 in the first of its new National Geographic Live Speaker Series. I spoke with Jodi by phone last week.

Apt613: What can audiences expect to see?

Jodi Cobb: The program is a photographic tour through 40 years of changes in the world. It’s a look inside the hidden world of societies that most people will never have a chance to see – the women of Saudi Arabia, the geisha of Japan, and human trafficking.

It’s a kind of rollercoaster ride, a combination of funny photos, beautiful photos and sad photos. I will show everything from photographs of slavery to beautiful images of underwater swimmers and reflections on the canals of Venice.

Mud Boys, Papua New Guinea, 1998. Photo by Jodi Cobb.

What do you think will be most surprising for audiences?

Well, they might be surprised to learn that I started out as a freelance rock and roll photographer, taking pictures of people like Bruce Springsteen and Ray Charles.

It will also be quite a revelation to see how much China has changed – I was one of the very first photographers to cross the country when it reopened to the West in the early 1980s.

Could you tell me a bit about a favourite image?

The image I am most well-known for is a close-up of a geisha’s lips. The image that probably affects me most, though, is a photo of a woman held in debt bondage in India in a brick kiln.

Miss Universe contestant. Photo by Jodi Cobb.

What kind of impact do you think your photographs have on how we see the world?

They open people’s eyes to injustices around the world, especially to women. At the same time, they show the incredible beauty in the world.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a retrospective of my work, a book about the incredible experiences I’ve had throughout the years taking photographs, and the stories behind them.

Jodi Cobb chronicles her career as a world-renowned photojournalist on Tuesday, March 3 at 7:30 pm at the National Arts Centre. Tickets start at $24 and are for sale here