Kolb, Ellsworth (1876-1960) and Emery (1881-1976)

Ellsworth supports Emery (left), Emery supports Ellsworth (right). The Kolb brothers used publicity shots like these to promote their work.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Ellsworth Kolb arrived at the Grand Canyon in 1901 and his brother Emery came the following year.

Initially, they made  a living by taking photographs of the tourist visitors to the canyon who had begun to arrive on the newly established Santa Fe railroad. They then moved on to taking photographs of the Canyon itself, and selling these to the tourists too. In 1906, they set up the Kolb Studio in a wooden house at the head of the Bright Angel Trail.

Emery operating a film camera, 1921, photographed by Ellsworth. NAU Emery Kolb Collection.

The brothers also made films, which, like their photographs, were mainly concerned with the natural environment of the Grand Canyon. However, they made a contribution to the canon of early films of ethnographic interest when they filmed the Snake Dance ceremony at the nearby Hopi village of Wàlpi in August 1911, returning to do so again in August 1913.

A film that combines footage from both performances of the ceremony is held at Northern Arizona University, in the Emery Kolb archive. It is possible that at least some of the material from 1913 is included in an unattributed film held by the Library of Congress, Hopi Indians Dance for Theodore Roosevelt (1913).

In 1924, Ellsworth left and went to live in Los Angeles. But Emery remained with his family at Kolb Studio until his death in 1976.

The Kolb Studio, now operated by the US National Park Service, stands at the head of the Bright Angel Trail to this day.

Text: Lyon 1988: 242, 262.

© 2018 Paul Henley