“There is a hidden luminescence in the wilderness of the American West,” writes Cody Cobb (b. 1984), a photographer – and explorer – based in Nevada. “A strange fluorescence occurs when certain minerals and organic materials are subjected to ultraviolet radiation. This spectrum of light is invisible to humans.” The following images are taken from Cobb’s Spectral series, which captures this parallel world after dark. On first glance, the shots look to be altered with clever filters. In fact, they are rooted in scientific reality.
The landscapes are instantly striking, glowing with great swathes of mustard yellow, fiery orange and ice blue. Cobb’s technique involves long exposures and an ultraviolet light source, taking his camera to areas where collapsed lava tubes can be found, or high up where lichens thrive. “The eerie light emitted from within these once familiar surfaces transforms the mundane into something extraterrestrial,” he notes. There’s a painterly quality to some of the compositions, with Romantic artist John Martin’s (1789-1854) fantastical – yet apocalyptic – visions of Mount Vesuvius springing to mind.
A sense of solitude runs throughout the series. For weeks at a time, Cobb wanders the American West alone, immersing himself in its seemingly untouched wilderness – as if stranded on another planet. It’s refreshing to look at the earth in this way: to zoom in on its textures and colours, to consider the landscape afresh. Cobb’s photographs are a reminder of what we can find when we stop, look around and investigate. Nature is full of endless and exquisite surprises, and never ceases to teach us something new.
All images courtesy Cody Cobb, from Spectral (2022).