Viewing Bob Kolbrener's new exhibit of photographs is like being struck by lightning--more than once.
Thursday, June 1, 2000
Photography There''s a certain irony to the title of Bob Kolbrener''s new exhibition of landscape photographs at the Highlands Inn Fireside Gallery. But regardless of whether the irony is intentional or not, the double meaning in the title of his show is a perfect expression of the surprise that awaits lovers of fine-print, large format photography.
Depending on your perspective, the word "photographs" in "Bob Kolbrener Photographs: To Eradicate Ennui," can be interpreted with equal significance as both a verb and plural noun.
As a verb, Kolbrener photographs out of a passionate commitment not only to his craft, but to the experience of life as a journey of discovery. For more than 25 years, Kolbrener has traveled throughout the American West with his wife, business partner and muse, Sharon, searching for and capturing those extraordinary moments when light, atmosphere and form coalesce to create a vision of enduring truth and grace.
As a noun, Kolbrener''s landscape photographs do indeed "eradicate ennui" by shattering our preconceptions of what landscape photography can or should be about. Granted, Kolbrener has turned his lens on the epic landscapes of the American West in a way that is not unlike artists such as Ansel Adams or the great turn-of-the-century photographer William Henry Jackson.
Where Kolbrener is unique, however, is in his preternatural ability to take the iconic forms of the Western landscape and render them within the context of fantastic, transitory atmospheric events--from eye-popping lightning storms to mysterious cloud formations--that suggest the truly ephemeral nature of the "eternal" landscape.
Kolbrener says he subscribes to the Louis Pasteur quote, "Chance favors the prepared mind." "The biggest misconception," he says, "is that you wait to find the perfect place and wait for the elements to conspire favorably. That can''t be further from the truth. You have to make yourself available to nature. People are time-poor, and these photographs are the result of a lot of time spent outdoors and being quick to respond. I love the exciting moments out there; it''s a matter of staying out long enough and learning about yourself and allowing your own vision to come through."
There is no better example of Kolbrener''s philosophy in action than a series of images he took last fall during a cosmic light storm over the skies of Monterey County.
Sept. 9, 1999 was the kind of day that Kolbrener--and any other photographer worth his or her salt--lives for. It was on that day, or evening to be more precise, that the skies over Monterey County opened up with a once-in-a-lifetime electrical storm that had photographers either blessing their lucky stars and scrambling for equipment, or cursing themselves and the gods above for being unprepared to capture a event of such startling magnitude.
As might be expected, Kolbrener wasn''t caught off guard. The result is a sequence of photographs in the exhibition that captures the awesome power, magic and mystery of that night.
"I was at home in the Highlands and was outside in my yard about four in the afternoon when I thought I heard thunder," recalls Kolbrener. "A minute later I knew I heard thunder and that was the beginning. As it was getting darker the most incredible light show began taking place.
"Sharon and I grabbed my equipment and headed down the coast. I set up my Hasselblad and I pointed the thing down to the south. I was sitting in the dark with my shutter open out there two hours with all the lightning in the distance. All of a sudden the world turned white; it was awesome, and we beat a hasty retreat to the car."
At a time when digital imagemaking is making it so much easier to produce large-scale "photographic" prints, and causing some photographers to try to make up in size for what their images lack in inherent impact, Kolbrener''s show is an enlightening and rather refreshing reminder of what can still be accomplished using traditional printing techniques.
All of Kolbrener''s prints were printed by hand, tray processed and toned using traditional photo chemistry. Many of the prints measure up to 40-by-50 inches in size, yet retain a wonderful richness of tonality and detail.
"The darkroom is still a wonderful place for me and I never tire of making prints," says Kolbrener. "I''ve given a lot of thought to the relative size of the prints and it just seems most of my images garner strength through size. I can''t explain it, but people seem to respond to them as they get bigger. The only thing that''s important to me is that I don''t enlarge too much, that I don''t lose sharpness or definition where the grain becomes problematic. You lose the majesty and magic if the print is too big from a small negative."
With an exhibit that encompasses nearly 30 years of work, one wonders if there are any surprises left to be discovered in Kolbrener''s future photographic sojourns. Are there still mysteries worth capturing on film in a world that has been trampled to death by photographers?
"There are so many secrets out there in the natural world that if you spend enough time you''ll trip over wonderful secrets and surprises, and that''s what I love," says Kolbrener. "I''ve never considered myself a technocrat and try to keep my level of craft high enough to support my vision."
"Bob Kolbrener Photographs: To Eradicate Ennui" is on display at the Highlands Inn Fireside Gallery through Oct. 3. Gallery located four miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. 620-1234.