Visual Documentarian. First among Firsts. Wayfinder.
In more ways than we can count, Jodi Cobb is a pioneer. As the only woman in National Geographic history to hold the position of staff field photographer, Jodi had to walk the fine line of innovating without ruffling feathers. This sparked challenges great and small. Shortly before she arrived, the campus still had separate male and female dining rooms with white-gloved waiters.
After earning her Master’s, Jodi launched her career as a newspaper photojournalist, documenting the chaotic and revolutionary 1970s. Shooting everything from hard news to counterculture—including an impressive portfolio of Rock & Roll—proved to be invaluable training for what was to come at National Geographic three years later. But before getting the international assignments she craved, Jodi had to prove she could do the things the guys could do, so her editors assigned aerials, underwater stories, and sports across rural America—the stories she now refers to as the lonely places. Since women had historically been portrayed in the media through men’s eyes: either revered as mothers or desired as lovers, Jodi made it her secret mission to only show women doing things. This strategy served her well, elevating the position of women in one of the most widely read magazines in the world, and earning the respect of her peers.
Looking back, Jodi has traveled through 100 countries, breaking gender, and cultural barriers to document momentous change in some of the world’s most complex, impenetrable environments. As one of the first western photojournalists to cross China when it reopened to the outside world after decades of isolation, Jodi traveled 7,000 miles from Beijing to the borders of Burma and Vietnam. Her tact and sensitivity to her subjects earned her trust and access—Jodi was the first photographer given permission by the king to photograph the women of Saudi Arabia, a culture previously invisible to the outside world. She was also the first to be welcomed into the secret and exclusive society of Japan’s Geisha for what would become the seminal book on Geisha culture, revealing their highly curated but often difficult lives. Over the years the stakes got higher. For the landmark National Geographic cover story, “21st Century Slaves,” Jodi worked for a year to expose the clandestine world of global human trafficking where people are bought and sold against their will, held captive, and exploited for profit.
Jodi has also documented deeply-rooted and disturbing cultural practices—many of which time has proven misguided—such as child marriages, bound feet, lip plates, neck rings, and parading toddlers in beauty pageants. To capture these stories and others, Jodi has explored some of the world’s most remote places, spending more than 6,000 nights on the road and logging over 2,000 airline flights, photographing royalty, rock stars, politics, cannibals, missionaries, leopards, lions, and terrorists.
Jodi’s many awards include being the first woman named “White House Photographer of the Year,” Lifetime Achievement Awards from the American Society of Media Photographers and The Photo Society, several Pulitzer Prize nominations, dozens of World Press and Pictures of the Year International awards, an honorary doctorate, and one of journalism’s most prestigious honors, the “University of Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism.” Also, one of her photographs is part of the Golden Record, aboard Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts, orbiting interstellar universe, for all of time.
6,000 nights and 2,000 flights: Exploring the World
Join one of our most popular storytellers as she shines the light on four decades of our shared history through gripping—and sometimes hilarious—stories. Celebrated for gaining access to hidden societies, Cobb has documented power, culture, geopolitics, oppression, and the world’s underbelly; her landmark story “21st Century Slavery” exposed global human trafficking and indentured servitude, generating more reader accolades than any other story up to that point in the history of National Geographic.
Photos: courtesy Jodi Cobb