Gary Kolb (Artist-in-Residence, 1999)

A photograph shows waves lapping over a rock
"Blake Point, 1999", 17 ½” x 17 ½” photograph, 1999

NPS/Gary Kolb

Isle Royale Reflection

"In the fall of 1996 I had the opportunity to backpack the length of Isle Royale with three hiking partners. We began in Rock Harbor and ended in Windigo—traversing the island north to south and east to west. I was fascinated by the history of the place and captivated by its beauty. This was also when I discovered the Artist In Residence program. Three years later, in 1999, I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to participate in the program. I returned to the island for the last two weeks of June and the first few days of July. I stayed in the Dassler Cabin on Scoville Point with my colleague and friend Jay Needham, a sound artist. I made hundreds of photographs and Jay captured hours of location sound recordings.

I live in southernmost Illinois, in the Shawnee National Forest where I have photographed extensively. It is a landscape traversed by the terminal moraine of the last immense ice sheets that covered most of North America, and encompassing the remaining cypress swamps of the northernmost tip of the ancient Gulf of Mexico, all within a few miles. It is a landscape with eroded sandstone bluffs textured by lichens, mosses and ferns. It is very unlike the rest of Illinois. Though on its face Isle Royale is quite different from my home, there are striking similarities—the exposed rock, the constant and visible action of water on the land, the delicate layering of life—both locations eschew the grand vistas of much of our western landscape in favor of the subtle, the complex, the intimate experience of nature. When one takes the time to look closely, one discovers the unique charm and power of landscapes such as these.

A photo shows large, solid rock with straight lines and angles
"Rock Planes, Isle Royale, 1999", 17 ½” x 17 ½” photograph, 1999

NPS/Gary Kolb

Isle Royale does not fit many of our accepted definitions of wilderness. It has been mined and timbered extensively beginning over 5,000 years ago. It was home to fishing camps, tourist resorts, and family cabins. Since becoming a national park in 1940 it has been slowly returning to its natural state. Its value for us lies primarily in its magic as a landscape—this is the very thing that has captured the imaginations and creative energies of generations of artists who have been in residence in the Dassler cabin. It was a great privilege to join this group."

- Gary Kolb, 2019

About the Artist

Gary Kolb was born in Cleveland, Ohio in July of 1952. He lived there until the age of eighteen when he left to attend Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He graduated from Northwestern with a B.A. in the History and Literature of Religions with a specialization in Eastern Religious Philosophies in March of 1974. After a year and one-half of working part-time jobs and freelance photojournalism, he went to pursue graduate work in Photography at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. He received his MFA in 1977.

Gary Kolb Portrait
Gary Kolb

Kolb returned to Chicago and worked in varying capacities in the photographic industry for the next two years. In 1979 he was hired as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1985 and Professor in 1998. He chaired the department on two occasions for a total of six years. He was an Isle Royale Artist-in-Residence from June 15th to June 30th, 1999. From 2003 to 2007 he was Associate Dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. In June 2007 he was appointed Interim Dean and In July 2008 he was appointed Dean of the College. He was a regional or national board member of the Society for Photographic Education for eleven years, including two years as National Chairperson of the Society.

In 1986 Kolb’s first book, Photogravure: a Process Handbook, was published by the Southern Illinois University Press. In 1993 his second book, Photographing in the Studio, was published by McGraw Hill. Over the years, he has worked in numerous photographic and digital media and been exhibited internationally. Professor Kolb’s current work revolves around issues of landscape and artifacts culled from the landscape brought into photographic and digital studio environments.

You can view more of Gary's Isle Royale work, and beyond, on his personal webpage.

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Last updated: January 15, 2020

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