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The National Park Centennial: Bob Kolbrener’s Portrait of Half Dome

Bob Kolbrener first experienced the work of Ansel Adams on a trip to California in 1968, and has spent his photographic career exploring the American west since then, often in national parks. Over the last 50 years, his work has been exhibited and collected internationally.READ ENTIRE ARTICLE

Kolbrener considers Portrait of Half Dome, a 2006 image he made in Yosemite National Park, to be a vital component of his body of work. This striking image is a marriage of beauty, vision, timing, and skill. Kolbrener recounts the story behind the picture:
Portrait of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Portrait of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

“The moments leading up to this photograph are of value. We travel to Yosemite in the winter when major snowstorms are eminent. The snow was constant for two straight days. On the third afternoon, we had pulled off the road to make some popcorn, and I was out of our vehicle just for a minute or two when looking toward Half Dome I saw a slight glow at its base. As I literally ran back to our van, my wife, Sharon saw me in flight and had the Hasselblad case out as I was arriving. Grabbing the camera body and the 150mm lens along with the tripod, I set up the camera close to the truck as things started to clear. I then realized that the foreground trees were too high into the face of Half Dome. Clomping through the thick snow I retreated around 100 feet until the face was unobstructed. I made 7 exposures total – the last three with a red filter to darken the sky more and best reveal the rising fog. In a dramatic twist worthy of a play, within moments of my last exposure, the clouds closed the scene like a curtain after a fine performance!”
More than being a remarkable image, Portrait of Half Dome, asks the viewer and photographer, himself, to consider the question, “Is this beautiful image the result of just being at the right place at the right time?” Kolbrener replies, “This assertion places its value on mother nature and not on me. The artist must be able to respond in the moment. My window of opportunity was maybe 10 minutes.” Nature often presents a photographer with a beautiful scene, but composing all the elements of the scene in a striking arrangement with limited time is a mixture of experience, skill, and talent.
The introduction to his book, Kolbrener’s Yosemite, best sums up his thoughts on landscape photography. “I have always responded to the grand, ephemeral gestures of nature. When there is lightning, fog, or winter storm, I am alive with emotion. Through the teaching of Ansel Adams, I have been able to direct this energy to the making of exciting photographs.”
Kolbrener expanded on this thought in a recent interview, “I would like to contend that everything that I have learned, experienced, and photographed all come together when nature presents the opportunity. I believe that all great photographs, by serious photographers, strike a balance between vision and craft. With an abundance of one of these over the other, the result is unsatisfactory.”
Having vision is more than having a good eye, Kolbrener says. “Good vision is the culmination of who we are – which is our past, present, and accumulated aesthetics.”
Kolbrener was born and raised west of St. Louis, Missouri, on his family’s 70 acres of ponds, woods, and fields. They had no neighbors, and after school, he and his three brothers spent the hours till dinner romping and climbing or catching frogs and fish. “I have to think that this environment was a contribution to the love I have for the natural world which I still maintain. Far different from an urban existence where as an adult the person decides to be a photographer and then travels to Yosemite to make photographs,” he said recently in an interview.
Kolbrener attributes his love of the land to those early years spent in close proximity to the natural world. The land, itself, with its beauty and variety, was his orbit. Kolbrener contends that industrialization moves us away from an agrarian way of seeing the world. For example, many people think that food comes from a grocery store, he said. “The farther we get from the natural world; the more trouble we are in.”
More of Kolbrener’s work can be seen on his Lumière Artist Page.

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