Leigh Ann Cobb always wanted to be an artist, she just never expected it to be like this.
At Kendall College of Art & Design, Cobb double majored in Fine Art Drawing and Printmaking. You might notice that none of the major was photography, but time spent in class collaborating, critiquing, experimenting and perfecting processes shaped her approach to art – and indeed, she can always return to burning.
Taking odd jobs after graduation, Cobb fell into photography around 2014 as a means of earning money, but embarked on exploring creative challenges to make her work the best it could be. Although she didn’t study the craft in school, she clearly understood it, now working full-time as an editorial, commercial and brand photographer with incredibly memorable images that play with natural light, color and human form.
We spoke with Cobb about his work and his love of collaboration.
What do you want people to take away from your photography?
I love creating work that showcases the talents of others, and a big part of my job is showcasing craftsmanship, designs, artists, etc. others and do it in a way that is accessible and fun to watch! I like it when someone talks to me about my work and says it’s Y, but it’s also Z, like, “I like how weird it is, but it’s still relevant” or “It’s looks a bit vintage, but it’s so modern”. I mostly shoot in natural light and rarely manipulate my images in Photoshop, but that doesn’t limit my ability to push the boundaries of reality. If I can keep my work accessible and eye-catching for more than the split second it takes to pass, I’m happy.
What’s it like working with a team to produce images?
I am nothing without my collaborators. I probably wouldn’t win anything if it was up to me to do it. There is a level of responsibility when you work with others towards a common goal. I’m a sucker for process, and working with a team means a lot of pre-production and planning. I work better surrounded by other qualified craftsmen, I think of concepts on which people would like to collaborate, which take us out of our daily commissions.
I also enjoy having an eye on the edit while I’m working, because sometimes it’s easy to feel like I don’t know what I’m doing when trying new things. There is a safety net in being able to ask, “Does this work?” Do we like this direction? and then be able to refocus quickly and work on it.
I feel the need to emphasize here that photography is also my full-time way of life, so these creative sessions allow me to understand the networks available to me. Professionalism is important, and when working with others to create artwork, I do my best to ensure that expectations have been communicated, questions have been answered, and everyone feels welcome. comfortable being himself and sharing his opinions.
Tell us about being an artist in West Michigan.
I often say that I never planned to stay in GR, but this city gave me a lot, and when I was still considering higher education elsewhere, I began to document other artists and artisans working in our city.
I’m so glad I got to see with my own eyes what’s possible outside of “big city living”. When I moved here for undergrad, Grand Rapids was described to me as a launching pad and in my experience, that rang pretty true. I’ve met so many amazing, talented and passionate people here who have moved on to bigger markets and bigger opportunities. The fact that I can make a living here and also afford to visit them is such a perfect way for me to see the world; I don’t think living in a big city can afford that much. Now I don’t have to choose between Detroit or Chicago, Paris or London, I can live it all!
I proudly tell my collaborators all the time that we couldn’t do some of the creative work we do so easily/effectively if we lived in a bigger city. Studio rentals are convenient here, I can afford a vehicle to transport gear and props for shoots, and I can store my gear at home – which I’m proud to say I could pay a solid deposit only to cause of my business in 2019 (no bragging, I know it was incredibly lucky given the current climate).
Plus, we have so much beautiful natural scenery within a 40 minute drive to use, and downtown Grand Rapids has beautiful architecture and beautiful public spaces that make for great backdrops.
Is there anything else you would like people to know?
Oh my god, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the local collaborators who make my work what it is: My husband Max and my sister-in-law Izzy, who often model me, help me and support me emotionally. My family for always supporting a career in the arts. All my friends who agreed to pose for me. All collaborators and artists attached to all past collaborations, my list of gratitude is growing day by day thanks to the willing and incredibly skilled humans here in our curious city. I don’t know where this work will take me next, but I’m here for the process.
Find more Cobb photography at leleighanncobb.com and @leigh.ann.cobb.photo.