Celebrating Wildness – by Bob Kolbrener

The wilderness instills in us the feeling of being uninhibited, creative and free; we are completely reliant on collective abilities in these places to undertake, protect and enjoy such an experience. And in turn, the wilderness shows us the meaning of grandeur and wonder and self. In this tradition, Bob Kolbrener has been exploring the wilderness through his lens since a discovery of Ansel Adams and Mr. Adams landscape legacy that was at its own apogee in the Yosemite backcountry. Together with his wife Sharon, Bob continues to seek out adventure with enthusiasm which has continued without decline for 50 years — frequently finding photographs along the way to celebrate and share their requited wonder. Today, The Ansel Adams Gallery is excited to exhibit a collection of Mr. Kolbrener’s work made during this period with “Celebrating Wildness.”

Sharon—Cliff Wall: photograph by Bob Kolbrener

In this modern world, we find ourselves – regardless of who we are or what our ideologies may be – at a crossroads. And like any time we are faced with multiple options laid out before us in a manner that leaves little room for miscalculation, we seek in ourselves the image of strength, resilience, and in cases that call for it, determination and defiance. It is in due consideration of these factors, that Bob Kolbrener’s “Sharon – Cliff Wall” resonates within our current culture. In the image, the artist has initially presented us with the focal point of a metaphorically vulnerable human being, naked and exposed to the elements, all alone in an unbridled wilderness. But at the same time, in the context of the subject’s surroundings, balanced organization within the frame, arms raised in symbolic rebellion, we begin to register this person as lacking any personification of weakness. Indeed, the story that unfolds is that of inspired perseverance due to the deliberate placement of the relatively diminutive figure in the lowest vertical third and underneath a wall of sandstone that dominates the overwhelming majority of the composition. We are also left to believe that the wall and its mass are infinite, a daunting weight of responsibility that seemingly falls on a modern day Atlas, but who in the end remains resolute regardless of their circumstances.

Here is a character worthy of today’s mythology.

About Bob Kolbrener

Bob Kolbrener was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1942 and attended Washington University in 1963. His passion for fine art black and white photography began in 1968 when he innocently wandered into Best’s Studio (now The Ansel Adams Gallery) in Yosemite National Park. The magnificence of the Ansel Adams original prints were overwhelming, and he has been captivated by photography since.

Bob and Sharon Kolbrener (it is not possible to know one and not the other) designed their lives around photography. They established a commercial photography business in St. Louis that provided work and an income for 10 months of the year, and made month long excursions from the Gateway to the West twice a year. After being an assistant for several Ansel Adams Workshops, in 1977 he was invited, along with Yousuf Karsh, to be an instructor at the Ansel Adams Workshop in Yosemite.
The discipline of commercial photography, of trying to reproduce the desirable qualities of the three dimensional object on a sheet of paper, was very instructive to Kolbrener. He learned, and mastered, the technical aspects “setting up the shot”: viewpoint, lighting, foreground, and background, as well as the exposure and importance of film type and speed. He took this training with him into the field, and has produced wonderful, sometimes dramatic, sometimes lighthearted, images of the West.
Bob and Sharon moved to the Monterey Peninsula in 1996, and have been engaged in creative photography full time since.

Kolbrener uses an 8×10” view camera and 2 ¼ single lens reflex camera only. He adheres to the concept of “straight” photography, using traditional methods of enlargement and printing without bleaching or toning the negative. The tonal qualities of his images are certainly reminiscent of Adams’ work, and the subject matter is epic. Kolbrener is one of the few black & white photographers who prints on a grand scale, and his work is, in a word, compelling.