When a tributary of the Indian Creek flooded two years ago, photographer Laura Cobb was fascinated by the beauty and the mess. The danger signs, water-swept trees, trash and debris flowing downstream in the heavy currents and piling up along the banks.
So she took out an old camera, a 4×5 “box-looking camera” that she borrowed from her uncle, Dennis Lindell, and began to document what she saw.
“I was just walking up and down the trail, just floored by nature,” she said. “One day I was standing on a bridge in that area and I was looking over the edge and I saw this trash glittering like jewels. It was so strange that something so horrible and sad can be so beautiful.”
Over the next two years, while she was studying art at Johnson County Community College, Cobb kept going back each week to observe how the creek changed. Altogether, she took more than 200 photographs of Indian Creek and the streams flowing into it.
Less than a year later, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has added to its collections three of Cobb’s photographs. The museum purchased two of them, and Cobb donated a third. The museum also purchased a copy of the book.
“It’s amazing to be taken seriously as an artist,” Cobb said. “It’s amazing to be collected by such a well-known museum. They are really an incredible place that has a lot of incredible artwork, and I am really honored to be among the artists collected there.”
‘Each photograph you take matters’
All of her images in the book were taken with the 4×5 camera. One photograph could take anywhere from two or three minutes to half an hour, depending on the subject matter.
“It’s amazing, you can get really, really sharp photographs with that,” she said. “I just love it. It’s a different process, so much slower. I like to take my time to explore the place and to really feel it and to know that each shot is the right shot. Each photograph you take matters.”
Cobb grew up in Stilwell and, after graduating from Johnson County in 2011, went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Kansas City Art Institute in 2013. She has completed three artist residencies in Wyoming and is traveling on the West Coast building her photography career.
Cobb said the photography curators at the museum — Keith F. Davis, April M. Watson and Jane Aspinwall — looked through her self-published book of these photographs, “400 Meters and Infinity along Indian Creek,” before making their selections.
Philip Heying, Cobb’s teacher at Johnson County Community College, said it felt fantastic to learn about his former student’s accomplishments.
“I think the work that Laura has done is some of the most important work I’ve seen being done in photography, period,” Heying said. “It’s just incredibly sophisticated, groundbreaking, powerful work that talks about things that I think are not being considered in our culture. It’s very complex and rich and full of all kinds of crazy paradoxes. It talks about the world and the ground we stand on right now with both a sense of peace and beauty and groundedness, but it’s also very urgent and a call to action to caring more about the world we live in and each other. It’s just gorgeous, thought-provoking work.”
Cobb thanked Heying for his “incredible” mentorship during her studies.
“I am so grateful for his encouragement and support,” she said. “I would not be the artist I am today without him and the Johnson County Community College community.”