Leigh Ann Cobb always wanted to be an artist, she just didn’t expect it to go this way.
At Kendall College of Art & Design, Cobb double majored in fine art drawing and printmaking. You might notice neither major was photography, but the time spent in class collaborating, critiquing, experimenting and perfecting processes shaped her approach to art — and besides, she can always return to printmaking.
Taking odd jobs after graduation, Cobb fell into photography around 2014 as a means to make money, but launched into exploring creative challenges to make her work the best it can be. Despite not studying the craft in school, she’s clearly figured it out, now working full-time as an editorial, commercial and branding photographer with incredibly memorable images that play with natural light, color and the human form.
We talked with Cobb about her work and love of collaboration.
What do you want people to take away from your photography?
I love creating work that showcases other people’s talents, and a lot of my work is about highlighting others’ crafts, designs, artists, etc. and doing it in a way that’s accessible and fun to look at! I enjoy when someone talks to me about my work and says it’s Y, but it’s also Z, like: “I love how it’s weird, but it’s still relatable,” or “It looks kind of vintage but it feels so modern.” I shoot mostly natural light and rarely ever manipulate my images in photoshop, but that doesn’t limit my ability to push the limits of what is real. If I can keep my work approachable and enjoyable to look at for more than the fraction-of-a-second it takes to pass by, I’m pleased.
How does it feel to work with a team to produce imagery?
I am nothing without my collaborators. I probably wouldn’t make anything if it were up to only me to do it. There’s a level of accountability when you work with others towards a mutual goal. I’m a sucker for process, and working with a team means a lot of pre-production and planning. I work best surrounded by other skilled craftspeople, brainstorming concepts that people would want to collaborate on, that get us out of our day-to-day commissions.
I also appreciate having an editing eye while I work, because sometimes it’s easy to feel like I don’t know what I’m doing when trying new things. There’s a safety net in being able to ask “Is this working? Do we love this direction?” and then be able to quickly recenter and work through it.
I feel the need to point out here that photography is also how I make my full-time living, so these creative sessions allow me the opportunity to understand the networks available to me. Professionalism is important, and when working with others to make artwork, I do my best to make sure expectations have been communicated, questions answered and that everyone feels comfortable to be themselves and share their opinions.
Tell us about being an artist in West Michigan.
I often say I never planned to stick around GR, but this city has given me a lot, and when I was still considering grad schools elsewhere, I was starting to document other artists and craftspeople working in our city.
I’m so glad I could see with my own eyes what’s possible outside of “big city living.” When I moved here for undergrad, Grand Rapids had been described to me as a launching pad and from my experience that’s rang mostly true. I’ve met so many incredible, talented, passionate people here who have gone on to bigger markets and grand 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 bigger city could allow as much. Now I don’t have to choose between Detroit or Chicago, Paris or London, I can experience it all!
I say with pride all the time to my collaborators that we couldn’t do some of the creative work we do so easily/efficiently if we lived in a bigger city. Studio rentals are convenient here, I can afford a vehicle for schlepping gear and props to shoots, and I can store my equipment at my home — which I’m proud to say I could put a solid down payment on solely because of my business back in 2019 (not a brag, I know it was incredibly lucky given the current climate).
Additionally, we have so many beautiful natural landscapes within a 40-minute drive to utilize, and downtown Grand Rapids has some beautiful architecture and gorgeous public spaces that make for great backdrops.
Anything else you want people to know?
Oh boy, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the local collaborators that make my work what it is: My husband Max and sister-in-law Izzy, who often model, assist and support me emotionally. My family for always supporting a career in the arts. All my friends who have agreed to pose for me. All collaborators and artists attached to any & all past collaborations, my list of gratitude gets longer by the day thanks to the willing and amazingly skilled humans here in our curious city. I’m not sure where this work will take me next, but I’m here for the process.
Find more of Cobb’s photography at leighanncobb.com and @leigh.ann.cobb.photo.