ON Film: Monument Valley by Travis Cobb

A few years back, my buddy and I decided to take a road trip form Dallas to the Grand Canyon. I’m not normally one for schedules and itineraries — especially when I’m on vacation — but given that we’d laid out numerous places we wanted to visit and that he had a flight to catch that Sunday, we had to plan our trip accordingly. I nailed it, had it down perfectly, he was cool with it and we were golden.

He flew down from Seattle and when I picked him up from the airport, the first thing out of his mouth was “I can’t drive a stick”. So, the schedule went to shit and we just went with it. It also meant that some of the stops we’d planned on had to be cut. The one I was most bummed about was Monument Valley — I vividly remember that long stretch of highway and passing the turn-off for Monument Valley wondering what it actually looked like 3 miles farther up the road we’d just driven past.

I’m a huge fan of Westerns, I grew up on Westerns and some of my all-time favorite films are Westerns. To be able to visit the Mecca of American Westerns has always been a desire of mine. So, when it was announced that my son had a baseball tournament in Phoenix, I knew this was a perfect opportunity to make the long trip.

I left Dallas at 7am for Santa Fe — apart from some crazy fog and white-knuckle rain, it was uneventful. For the record, the drive from Dallas to anywhere in a 6-hour+ radius is the most boring drive in the world. The next morning in Santa Fe, I awoke to about 5” of snow — not a problem, it wasn’t sticking to the roads. What was the problem was to get from Santa Fe to Monument Valley, you must travel up into the mountains on single lane roads, where it was still snowing and had not been plowed, in my Kia. Afters hours worth of chasing semi trucks just to find tire tracks in the snow to stay on the road, I made it — after years, I made it only to get stuck in the mud.

The locals called it El Cap — Agathla Peak — this massive rock that looks as though it pierced the Earth rises over the horizon on the road from Kayenta. My buddy and I had stopped on the side of the road years ago to photograph it. When it came into view this time, I wanted another frame. As soon as I pulled off the road my car sank up in the red clay. Apparently it had rained the day before, and when it rains there, the dusty red Martian-like soil turns into this concrete-like quicksand. I was starting to shit myself — it was getting dark, I was in the middle of nowhere with no service, and it was starting to snow. After about a half hour of me frantically trying to dig my ass out of the mud with some rocks and my bare hands, a guy named Franklin but who preferred “Cowboy” pulled me out of the mud.

Monument Valley and the surrounding Navajo Nation reveals something new every time. Below are my favorite frames from that long drive.

For Steve by Travis Cobb

I’ve been shooting less client work and focusing more on personal work — I think that if anyone is to continue to grow in their craft, whatever that may be, you need to constantly infuse those things that remind you of why you’re choosing to do whatever it is that you do into the scope of your work. Do things for yourself and do things that reinvigorate your passion.

Many of my friends are beginning to approach the age in which we have no choice but to begin to address death — our parents aren’t getting any younger. I’m fortunate that I haven’t necessarily had to meet that head on, but some of my friends have. My friend lost her dad in January, and instead of some solemn gathering to mourn, they wanted a blowout fit for Steve.

Steve was a lifelong musician, and to send him off properly, his fellow bandmates from several bands that spanned decades came together on a makeshift stage south of Dallas and gave Steve a fitting farewell. There’s never really a good way for any of this — it all hurts. But to see so many smiles on the faces of those still grieving, it was the best way.

Below are my favorite frames from that bourbon-fueled night. Stefani and Jordan — love you both.

Brittany & Jace by Travis Cobb

Sometimes I’ll go back through and compare a first session to the most recent session, especially for someone who I photograph yearly. When I went back to the first session with Brittany and Jace, he was in diapers, bald, and eating cake — I think it was his first birthday. Now, he’s a little man with a big personality and attitude. He never used to really open up all that much — in my experience, most kids aren’t the biggest fan of photos, I have to bribe my own kid with LEGOS just to shoot a roll of film. But now, I don’t have to ask Jace to do anything beyond “go stand over there” and he' starts flossing, or me trying to find good light and he’s already propped himself up on a bench posing for me wanting me to take his photograph.

Below are my favorite frames from our wander around downtown Dallas.

The Trammells by Travis Cobb

Time is blessing and it’s a curse. I only think about when I wish I had more of it. My son is 12, and I only have a little bit of time left with him. Sure, I have 6 more years before he turns 18 and goes out into the world on his own, but if the past 12 years are any indication, I feel like my time with him will be over when I wake up. That’s kind of how I felt when I saw Emma for the second time. I hadn’t seen her in the better part of a year, and this little girl had grown so much (…as kids do…) that I felt like I was meeting a totally different child.

Being around little kids almost — almost — makes me think about the prospect, all the what-if’s, but then I also selfishly think to myself if that’s really the most productive thing for me to do with my time. It’s difficult to responsibly drink wine around little kids, and little kids don’t place Iceland too high on the vacation list, but there certainly are worse ways to spend 18 years.

Below are my favorite frames from an afternoon spent with David, Kadie and Emma.

Patrick and the Boys No. 2 by Travis Cobb

You can spend hours laying out the best game plan and you can wake up early on a weekend to beat the crowds, but you can never have a contingnecy for a manhole cover blowing. In my experience, the best moments both come and are made when there’s little to no planning made beyond “hey, let’s meet here at 9 and wander around”.

It takes people time to warm up to having a camera pointed at their face, especially in public. And it takes time for me to see moments that I believe are worth capturing. Sure, moms and dads will get their smiling portraits — but the photographs of families that I always find the most interesting are the in-betweens, like cleaning dirt off your shoes, or waiting for the light to change, or finding some random water fountain. There’s nothing particularly interesting about taking a photograph of a kid cleaning dirt of his white shoes, but when his dad sits down next to him and places his hand on his back when they don’t think I’m looking — that’s worth capturing.

Below are my favorite frames from my trip downtown with Patrick and the boys.

The Nelsons by Travis Cobb

The first time I photographed any one of the Nelsons was at the Dallas Arboretum, and Cohen, the handsome little man in gray, was in diapers and I don’t think he was walking yet — the kid has a mustache now. No, he doesn’t. But that’s how it feels when the years pass and I see these people grow from diapers to fully developed personalities and attitudes.

When you shoot predominantly outdoors or on-site, finding new locations can be a challenge. Even more challenging is the desire to have the images evoke “Christmas” — but this is Dallas and pine trees don’t really grow here. So we’ve found this gorgeous spot, and lucky for us, there was just enough color left for us to find a little patch of fall before everything was left bare.

Below are my favorite frames from that day.

All the Skaggs by Travis Cobb

There’s not much more I can say about a family that I’ve known for the better part of a decade — a family that I feel like I’m a part of. I’ve been around long enough to experience engagements, and weddings, and pre-kids, and single malt benders, and kids, and hospital visits — all of it. A quick photoshoot the day after Thanksgiving has turned into sort of a tradition with us — they feed me pretty well, too.

Revisiting the Turners by Travis Cobb

I photograph many things that, for one reason or another, never make it on this blog. But sometimes, I get so sidetracked by life that I forget to post some things that I genuinely really like.

These photos were taken a couple years back shortly after the birth of Heather and Andrew’s second child. By coincidence, my co-worker was browsing my photos and saw a photograph of her cousin — Andrew Turner. And as we were talking about it, I suddenly realized that I’d never posted these images — these images that I truly adore.

I’m not the biggest fan of the hyper-stylized baby shoots, it’s just not my thing. I want to see what real life is like for the people actually living it. No makeup, shit strewn around a hospital room, crying kids, the looks sleep deprivation on mom and dad — but also those little fleeting moments of time they get to spend alone, before they go back home to real life and all of the chaos that comes with trying to raise a toddler and an infant at the same time.

I want to take photographs that the people in those photographs will actually remember. No one remembers wearing matching outfits on a blanket in the park — people remember how much they didn’t enjoy mom and dad making them dress alike and waste an afternoon to go take photographs they didn’t want to be in.

A long overdue thank you to Heather and Andrew for inviting me into their hospital room — I love these photographs.

Wedding: Allyssa & Jeremiah by Travis Cobb

I don’t know what to say with this one. I’ve known both Allyssa and Jeremiah separately for years. Jeremiah was always the perennial bachelor, so naturally news of their engagement was met with both elation and bewilderment. A couple years back, Jeremiah moved from Dallas to the northeast to be with Allyssa, so in retrospect, either Jeremiah hated Dallas that much (entirely plausible) or their engagement was inevitable.

I’d been to New York only twice before — once in the late summer and once in early January. When I landed, it was dark and raining. When I finally got out of the city and through never ending taillights and headed north to Poughkeepsie, it was pitch black with rain and fog sprinkled in for proper measure. But when I woke up and opened the blinds to my hotel room window, it was obvious why they chose to have their wedding there. Hailing from Washington State, we don’t normally get colors like that. And currently residing in Dallas, well, there are no colors — ever.

Had I not been photographing their day, I’d have been drinking my way through it, camera in hand. I’m very fortunate to be able to share in these moments with some of my best friends. It had been far too long since I’d seen my friends — I hope to change that in the future.

Below are some of my favorite frames from that cold, short weekend in New York celebrating the wedding of my friends — Allyssa and Jeremiah.

Wedding: Rachel & Ryan by Travis Cobb

I’ve been to so many weddings that I’m not sure I could count them — I lost track long ago. But the thing I love about them is that even though most generally follow the same template, there’s always something different and unique about each one — the people.

Decorations are decorations, and flowers are flowers (sorry, florists), and food is food, and open bars are open bars. It’s the people I’m engaging with and the people who I’m allowed to be in such close proximity with on one of their most important days ever and I’m usually nothing more than a total stranger who’s been allowed into this dynamic — that’s what makes them awesome.

I’ve done rounds of Jagermeister shots with the groom and groomsmen, slow danced with mothers of the bride, counseled nervous grooms-to-be, and have had to hold a dress up while the bride-to-be couldn’t wait any longer…you know what I mean (all of whom will remain nameless). Most of the time, I prefer to be as out-of-sight and out-of-mind as possible — I’m a distraction that most brides and grooms don’t need on their wedding day. It also helps to break people of their indoctrinated tendency to smile as soon as I lift my camera to my eye.

Rachel and Ryan’s wedding was held at the gorgeous Hidden Pines Chapel in Highland Village (outside Dallas, Texas). And like many weddings, there’s always a wrench that gets tossed in somewhere — what started off as a brilliant sunny day turned quite dark and wet halfway through the ceremony, and all of that gorgeous natural light that had been filtering in through the windows quickly darkened, even thought the power was going to go out during the reception.

Below are a few of my favorite frames from that day — thank you, Ryan and Rachel.

Jen & Casey (plus one) by Travis Cobb

It really is a small world. That, or I have a very small circle. It's probably a combination of both, really. Either way, I get emails from prospective clients regularly, and if I don't recognize them I try to make it a point to know how they found me. I didn't ask Jen when we were emailing, so I made it a point to ask when we met. Turns out she went to school with a mutual friend and had seen her engagement photos that I had taken years ago. She talked about the "rain" photo, which was actually the last frame that we shot that day. Jennifer and Kyle's engagement session that Jen referenced was sweltering. I remember they'd wanted to take a "Notebook" photo, but given it was summertime and there was no rain, our only option was a hose. It worked.

Any how, Jen emailed me about maternity photos, but mentioned they wanted to do them outdoors in May. Outdoors in May in Texas is hot, couple that with being pregnant and, well, you're kind of rolling the dice. You don't want to put the mother in any sort of environment that is going to cause any undue stress — or more importantly — piss her off. Lucky for us, it wasn't too hot, the sun had just begun to fall behind the trees, and the wildflowers hadn't been mowed down.

Thanks to Jen and Casey for allowing me to document this little sliver of life — and I'm sorry for all the bug bites! Below are a few of my favorite frames from that day.

Cheryl, Jason & Jackson by Travis Cobb

I met Cheryl and Jason years ago through mutual friends – I think it actually may have been at a wedding in Mexico. But that was 7 or so years ago, and a lot has changed for both of us in that time. For them, it was major life events, like starting a family. For me, it was major work events, like not making all of my photographs look like they've got Instagram filters slapped on them. We both grew up.

They'd moved away a few years ago, but then life brought them back to Texas. Cheryl had commented on a recent session I'd done – something to the extent of it making her cry. I don't know if that was an exaggeration, but I'll take it! Next thing you know, the four of us are standing in a park with some crazy windchill, squirrels, a stranger's dog, runny noses, crazy thick mud that stuck to everything, and Jason left with teeth impressions in his forehead – all in all, a good morning.

You can't really direct toddlers...like, not at all. All I can do is just follow them around, be patient, and hope that all of the aforementioned distractions and afflictions will afford me a decent photograph or two. Considering all of those things, I'm pretty happy with what we captured.

Below are a few of my favorite frames from that cold and blustery day.

Liara & Amaya by Travis Cobb

I love photographing these two kids. This is our third time around – I think one of them might have still been in pull-ups the first time. Just like documenting my own son, being able to photograph kids at different stages in their youth is a real trip, you see personalities and attitudes develop. For a parent, that's...you know...growing pains. But as a photographer, that's more than I could ask for.

I give little direction and watch them emote and express and experience – you just have to help them break down the barrier of smiling as soon as the camera is pointed at them. There's nothing wrong with a natural smile – but it has to be natural. A natural emotion, a natural expression, a natural response – I don't see the point otherwise.

It's wonderful when someone trusts your vision and just lets you go – thanks to my old friend, Jen, and her husband, Nic. Below are my favorite frames from our windy day.

The Final Four by Travis Cobb

Naturally, the holidays end up being a pretty hectic time of year – everyone is needing photos for the Christmas cards, like, yesterday. I probably had 8 or 9 shoots in November alone – it's a lot, but I love doing it. Apart from the sheer volume pf photographs, there are all sorts of challenges associated – less-than-favorable weather, dwindling daylight hours, less-than-desirable environmental conditions and settings, but showing up and spending an hour with people and screwing around taking photographs, well, there certainly are worse ways to spend a few afternoons.

Below is a compilation of of some of my favorite images from my four final sessions of 2017.

Felicity, Ben, Aubrey & Katherine by Travis Cobb

It's not a thought that normally comes to mind until I'm editing photos, but it's a real trip to look at images I've taken of people that span the course of years.  I mean, I do it with my son all the time, but it's different when it's not my kid.  I met Felicity and Ben years ago when I took their engagement photos, and last month I was photographing them and their two gorgeous daughters.

I know parents often have these lofty ideas about how shoots go – or will hopefully go – but when you toss kids in the mix, there quickly comes a point where you've got to essentially set them loose and let them do their own thing.  Pick grass, throw rocks, make faces, whatever.  I want to see that and capture that.  If you don't let a kid be a kid at a photoshoot, then the only frames you'll get are a bunch of side-eye glares.

I appreciate the freedom Felicity and Ben afforded me that day in November – I know the photographs wouldn't be the same if kids couldn't be kids.  Below are my favorite frames from that afternoon.

Patrick & The Boys by Travis Cobb

I've known Patrick for a while – our boys played on the same baseball team way back when. And when he asked if I'd be up for photographing him and his boys, I jumped at the chance. I do love photographing people, but I don't always love photographing people with animals.  Animals might as well be infants – they don't understand a word you're telling them or a direction you're giving them, they could not care less for the images I want to capture, and more often than not, the animal clearly wants no part of these photos. With that said, photographing people with animals can also be totally awesome.

Kids – as photogenic as they can be – aren't always the most camera-friendly. Often times they're nervous, and like animals, want no part of these photos. They're getting direction from me while getting heat from their parents for whatever reason. And worst of all, as soon as I lift my camera and look through the viewfinder, they've been indoctrinated to give some super cheesy smile. So, for me, it takes a little bit to break that down and build up what I want to see. That's where the animals come in.

Patrick had told me they'd recently gotten a dog and he'd asked if it'd be cool to bring her along. Familiar with where we'd be shooting, I thought it'd be a great opportunity for a few reasons, but primarily, they can be a sort of safety blanket for kids to help lighten the atmosphere of family photos. And after several minutes of me trying to capture some frames, I'd asked if they let the dog go, would she run, and if she ran, would the boys chase her? They couldn't let her go fast enough.

I know my approach and vision isn't for all, but that's fine by me, because it's mine. I appreciate people like Patrick who afford me the opportunities to express it while documenting little slivers of their lives.

Montana on Kodak by Travis Cobb

My mom moved to a little Montana town (Victor, about 45 minutes south of Missoula) in August of 2016.  This summer was the second time I'd been able to go visit.  It's wonderful to be able to visit places like this – places basically in our backyard but also places that don't necessarily rank too high on our vacation destinations. 

My past two visits (August 2016 and July 2017), there've been massive wildfires in the neighboring mountains.  On the flight in to Missoula from Seattle, I sat next to smoke jumpers that were flying in from Alaska to help combat the fires.

My mom moved back to Washington this September.  I'm bummed I didn't get a chance to see a Montana Christmas (yet), but to me, nothing compares to the Pacific Northwest – it'll always be home. 

These are some of my favorite frames from my last trip to Montana – all shot on Kodak Portra 400 film.

Lindsey, Amanda, and New Mexico by Travis Cobb

Maybe I'm alone in this sort of thought, but as a photographer (and I use that term very loosely), the more I progress, the less desire I have to photograph things that don't interest me, regardless of how much it might pay.  I don't take photographs for a living, so I don't need to take paying jobs because I have a steady income (thankfully).  But I've been there before, earning barely enough to eat more than Top Ramen, needing photo gigs to supplement my income to pay the bills, and I genuinely feel as though it compromised my work artistically.  I was photographing things not because I wanted to, but because I needed to.  Now, when I do take on a gig, there's got to be something about it that draws me in – that engages me – or else what's the point?  And that really applies to my life in general – if it doesn't fuel and sustain my creative desires, then I simply don't see the point in pursuing it.

That's why I love, absolutely love taking these breathers with my friends.  There's no stress, no pressure, no client needs, just being in a place I've never been, with people I love, taking photographs of things I want to see.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.  But I'm afforded the rare opportunity to try things I normally don't get to.

More times than not, my only muse is my 11 year old son, who I have to bribe with Legos in order to let me snap a few rolls of film.  But here, with Lindsey and Amanda, I'm free and they're always ready and willing to put themselves in positions a normal client wouldn't – like on a bug-and–algae-covered rock in the middle of the Rio Grande.

It's these little breaks from normalcy that inspire me as an artist and as a human – I don't get out all that much.  Thank you, Lindsey and Amanda, for being a part of my much-needed little breaks.

Lindsey, Elise, Amanda and the Dunes by Travis Cobb

For several years now, I’ve wanted to visit and photograph our National Parks and Monuments – visit all those places that I’ve never seen but want to support and protect for my son and future generations.  I’m a day’s drive from several, and with a few 3-day weekends on the calendar, that’s how I was going to choose to spend them.  As time passes and as I continue on my photographic journey, I find myself becoming detached from photographing the things I’d done in the past, and instead taking photographs for myself – the things and the places and the people I want to photograph.  I’ve said “no” a lot over the past several years because those things that I was being propositioned to photograph didn’t align with where I feel my direction is headed.  Admittedly, that direction isn’t making me any money, it’s costing me quite a bit, yet for the first time as a “photographer” I feel genuine fulfillment with what I’m doing and with what I’m capturing because I’m doing it on my terms.

With all of that, and in some serendipitous fashion, I was driving to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Southern Colorado to see a friend whom I haven’t seen since the first and only time we met four years ago (she also brought two new friends).  We all needed an escape, so we escaped to Crestone to play in the sand and take a few pictures.  Anyone who’s seen that part of our country knows how indescribably breathtaking it is.  The drive from Dallas to the border of Northern New Mexico and Colorado is…well, it’s about 9 hours of suck.  But there’s this point, this magical little spot on highway 87 just east of Raton, New Mexico, when you come around this long, gradual turn and the Rocky Mountains reveal themselves as if the landscape gave way just for you.

You can plan and plot and forecast all you want, but it never seems to fail that when you take your camera out of the bag, Mother Nature gives you a big middle finger.  Trying to balance harsh sun, quick moving clouds, rain, strong winds and blowing sand isn’t something I’d actively seek out again, but those kinds of circumstances make the greatest of memories.  I know that if I’d uploaded the full resolution images and you pixel-peeped, you’d still see countless grains of sand stuck to their faces – I was still finding sand in places when I got back to Dallas.  I’d thought about trying to Photoshop out ALL the sand from their skin, but it felt like I was trying to erase part of what I remember quite fondly about that trip and being there with them, so I left it there, every grain.  I am still learning, and this trip definitely took me to school, but I am anxiously counting down the days until we do it all over again in Santa Fe.

Below are some of my favorite frames from our trip together...onesies and all the grains of sand.

The Cowboys of the Fort Worth Stockyards by Travis Cobb

Several weeks ago, I went to the Stockyards in Fort Worth for the first time.  I've been in Texas for over a decade but have never actually been to the Stockyards.  We were there for a leadership conference for work, but had a few hours to kill before dinner.  I saw a few guys dressed up, or what I thought was dressed up, but nope, they were full on cowboys.  The Stockyards seem as though they can be a bit of a tourist trap, I mean, dozens of us showed up on two charter buses, so....  I didn't want to be intrusive as I'm sure these guys (and gals) have to pose with tourists some ungodly amount, but when the first guy looked at me and nodded, it was on.  These guys (and gals) were some of the warmest, most personable people I've come across – after taking their photo, they thanked me and then stopped to tell jokes.  I'll most definitely be back.