Kolb Studios


the morning after our arrival at the Grand Canyon, we’d hoped to hike part way down the Bright Angel Trail into the canyon. unfortunately, the snow that had fallen in previous days had packed down on the shaded trail and both signs and rangers warned that crampons or some other method of “traction control” were strongly recommended.

disinclined to fork out the inflated price for Yaktrax, we opted to hike along the South Rim instead, from the Kolb Studio at the Grand Canyon Village back to the Visitor’s Center. I’m glad we made the effort to trek around the construction blocking access to the Bright Angel Trailhead, at the top of which perches the Kolb Studios.

Studio from the Bright Angel Trailhead

for those of you familiar with the Wisconsin Dells, the Kolb Brothers (Emery and Ellsworth) were to the Grand Canyon as H.H. Bennett was to the Dells, taking remarkable, breathtaking daring shots of the natural wonder of the Canyon and Colorado River. the brothers arrived at the Canyon in 1901 and 1902, one working as a bellhop in the lodge and the other hoping for work in an asbestos mine. fortunately for Emery, the mine had closed by his arrival and he stumbled upon a photography shop for sale in Williams; having previously dabbled in photography, he took the risk of the sale and began snapping shots of visitors winding their way down the Bright Angel Trail on mule trains.

initially, they operated out of a tent studio on the rim of the canyon. with the success of their business, however, allowed them to carve a shelf out of the canyon rim and construct a permanent building, which stands today as the core of the studio and museum. the studio grew through several additions including, most importantly, an auditorium in which the brothers screened the film that made them famous. though Ellsworth moved west to Los Angeles in 1924, Emery continued to run the studio and screen the film until his death in 1976, making it the longest, continually-running motion picture in the history.

the Kolb Brother’s canvas boat with cork life vest

after enjoying wide success from unique photos from the base of the Canyon and along the River, in 1911 the brothers undertook to navigate the Green and Colorado Rivers, through the Grand Canyon, eventually ending in Needles, California. the expedition took two months and they took the resulting moving picture show, the “Grand Canyon Film Show,” on tour across the country, playing to packed houses from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York City. upon returning from the screening tour, Ellsworth bought another boat and rode the spring flood from Needles to the Gulf of California, and recounted the entire adventure in the still-in-print Through the Grand Canyon from Wyoming to Mexico.

as I said, Emery stayed and worked in the studio until his death, continuing to photograph the Canyon and Rim as it became increasingly popular with tourists, changing and growing around him. proceeds from the studio and his photography helped support the entire family.

for more images of the studio, as well as the current exhibit in the studio on the Kolb Brothers, check out the National Park’s photostream.

Author: Erica

born in the midwest with wandering feet.