Earlier this year, back when climate change was humanity’s most pressing existential threat, WIRED put together a special issue exploring the technologies that are already mitigating the environmental crisis that Earth faces. Basically, we wanted to highlight who is saving the world and how. It’s a massive issue and in order for our art department to visualize it we had to totally rethink our design system. This couldn’t look like just any issue of WIRED.
We knew we needed stunning photography to show off the precious planet these innovators were trying to save. To that end, we sent Cody Cobb, a photographer known for his meditative, dream-like landscapes, to make images of a large swath of the American West. The results were outstanding and expansive.
The images were also the result of a mission that varied in both aesthetic and climate. In the Wind River Experimental Forest, a dense network of old-growth redwood trees on the Washington-Oregon border, Cobb would start his days at 6 am and wander late into the night. On one instance, he found himself hiking a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail–a trail that stretches from Canada to Mexico–under a snow moon. “When I was a kid I was just terrified of the dark. Now, I feel like I’m tapping into the excitement of being alone and afraid,” Cobb says. He gets a thrill from experimenting with trippy lighting techniques, like photographing pitch-black scenes with nothing but with his red LED headlamp, which imparts his images with an eerie glow.
When Cobb was photographing Glenrock, a wind farm in the frigid tundra outside of Casper, Wyoming, temperatures hovered below freezing and the wind gusts were more than 70 miles per hour. His glasses blew away while he was shooting; he fumbled around, blurry-eyed, in the snow and unrelenting wind looking for them. “That’s when I had the realization that I was in a completely different environment than the rainforest in Washington that I had just shot” he says. “The contrast was incredible. Having to adapt to shoot in those conditions was a really fun challenge.”
For Cobb, spending all his time in the wild has made him more sensitive to the subtle ways nature has shaped him. “Feeling vulnerable, feeling scared, feeling uncomfortable, feeling lonely—I started letting all that human emotion become a part of the photos,” Cobb says. Over the last ten years, as he finds himself on longer and longer solo excursions off into nowhere, he’s grown increasingly connected to the landscapes he’s photographing.
“I would say I’m an environmentalist,” he says. “I look at everything as a whole and don’t make a distinction between what’s human and what’s nature. Everything is just one big system.”
The realities of photo editing, however, mean that not everything Cobb captured could find its way into our print magazine, where space is limited. So, to commemorate Earth Day, we wanted to share some of our favorites among the previously unpublished images Cobb shot for our April issue. Get lost in his stunning photos of the American wilderness in the gallery above.
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