Photographer Marion Warren; Chronicled Life in Maryland

To create this photo of the moon rising over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Marion Warren waited a year for the clouds, lighting and winds to be right.
To create this photo of the moon rising over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Marion Warren waited a year for the clouds, lighting and winds to be right. (1953 Photo By Marion E. Warren Via Associated Press)
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Marion E. Warren, whose poetic photographs captured the varied landscapes and people of Maryland, died Sept. 8 of lung cancer at Anne Arundel Medical Center. He was 86 and lived in Annapolis.

For more than 50 years, Mr. Warren took his cameras to every corner of the state, chronicling the natural beauty of rural Maryland, the changing urban life of Baltimore and the humble labor of watermen on the Chesapeake Bay. He was the state's official photographer for 14 years, and his work has been featured in books, a television documentary and frequent exhibitions.

His dramatic 1953 photograph of a moonrise over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge -- which was a year in preparation -- remains one of the state's most memorable and majestic images. Late in his career, he embarked on a 10-year project to document the life of the Chesapeake, collecting hundreds of photographs in a 1994 book, "Bringing Back the Bay."

Mr. Warren also was responsible for salvaging tens of thousands of historic images of Maryland by early, often unknown photographers. With his daughter, he published a series of books of 19th- and early 20th-century photographs of Maryland and later presented the pictures to the state archives. In 1987, he donated to the state more than 100,000 of his own negatives.

"Marion Warren was the epitome of the grand tradition in photography that is fast becoming completely transformed in the digital age," said Tom Beck, chief curator at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a professor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. "He was very practical and had a well-organized mind."

His only rival in depicting the state's vistas was A. Aubrey Bodine (1906-1970), but photography experts say Mr. Warren had a keener eye for documenting the state's vanishing ways of life, from rural tobacco auctions to skipjacks plying the Chesapeake.

"Capturing life is the most vital thing photography can do," Mr. Warren once said. "Documenting the real life of people, their real existence -- no other art can do it."

Marion Edwin Warren was born June 18, 1920, in the now-defunct town of Wheat Basin, Mont., and moved as an infant with his family to a farm near Sikeston, Mo. His mother and twin brother died before his second birthday.

At 12, he went to St. Louis to live with an aunt who was a newspaper reporter. He took pictures for his high school yearbook and in 1938 paid $12.50 for his first camera, a 35-mm Argus. He attended Washington University in St. Louis, but mostly he worked in commercial, advertising, medical and news photography, including a stint with the Associated Press.

When he was drafted in 1942, he wrote in large block letters on his forms that he had experience as a news photographer and was assigned to a Navy photographic unit at the Pentagon led by Edward Steichen, one of the founders of modern photography. Steichen looked through Mr. Warren's portfolio and stopped at a photograph of dancers' legs, taken at floor level.

"Young man," he said, "you keep taking pictures like that, and you could be a great photographer some day."

Mr. Warren photographed leading admirals of the war, and in 1945 took the last image of Franklin D. Roosevelt with his full family. After the war, he worked at the Harris and Ewing Studio in Washington as a portrait photographer before moving to Annapolis in 1947.

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