Marion Warren bought his first camera in
1938 when he was seventeen years old so that he could take
pictures of his classmates for his high school yearbook. The
awkward young man who had experienced many hardships throughout
childhood and adolescence suddenly discovered a talent that both
surprised and delighted him. With minimal formal education in
photography, he won a series of jobs working in commercial
studios in St. Louis. In his free time he wandered the city and
the nearby countryside with his camera. The images he took then
reveal a surprising early mastery of his art.
Enlistment in the U.S. Navy in 1942
brought new opportunities when Marion Warren landed a three-year
assignment in the Department of the Navy’s Office
of Public Relations in Washington, D.C. This experience sparked
a deep and abiding awareness of the crucial part photography can
play in creating vital visual documentation of day-to-day
history. He regularly shot portraits of top Navy brass and events
at the White House. He also developed film delivered fresh from
Pacific and European engagements, including a roll that
contained the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. And he met two
people who would play pivotal roles
in his career. Mary Giblin, the woman he would marry, was a WAVE
in the Navy. She was assigned to write captions for him the
night they met, a job she excelled at for more than forty years.
He also worked in close proximity to yachtsman Carleton
Mitchell, who invited Marion Warren and his family to move to
Annapolis, Maryland, so that the young photographer could
continue to assist Mitchell as he produced books and articles.
Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay revealed a
whole new world for Marion Warren and his camera. In just a few
years he shifted from covering weddings
and taking formal portraits to more challenging commercial and
industrial assignments that sent him all over the United States.
He saw Annapolis transform from a sleepy town into a thriving
center for historic preservation and tourism. His work for
architects and planners documented the metamorphosis of downtown
Baltimore as he photographed the city before, during, and after
the creation of Charles Center. Few
weekends were spent at home as his family traversed Maryland so
that Marion Warren could shoot hundreds of classic images of
famous landmarks and out-of-the-way places.
In 1987 Marion Warren donated more than
100,000 black-and-white negatives to the Maryland State
Archives, assuring that his legacy would be properly cared for
and enjoyed for generations to come. At about the same time he
began his Bay Project, an effort to visually document every
aspect of the Chesapeake and its watershed, which resulted in
his seventh book, Bringing Back the Bay. Then, in his
late seventies as his wife’s Alzheimer’s disease worsened and he
needed to stay closer to home, he undertook an extensive
portrait project that he called Friends and
In August 2001, an exhibit entitled The
Photography of Marion E. Warren: A Retrospective Vision
opened at The Mitchell Gallery of St. John’s College in
Annapolis. The exhibit drew a record crowd to its opening
reception. Marion Warren met Joanie Surette while assembling the
exhibit. She became his assistant working with him until the
time of his death.
In August 2002, a cover article appeared
in The Washington Post Magazine that generated a renewed
interest in Marion Warren’s photography.
Late in 2002 Marion Warren began a
collaboration with photographer and master printer, Richard
Olsenius using a new fine art archival printing process,
producing, in the artist’s own words, “the most superb prints of
my work available today.”
Bringing Back the Bay went back on
press for a second printing in December 2002.
The Retrospective Vision exhibit
hung in the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis for the
An exhibit of Marion Warren’s newly
printed archival color photographs was shown in 2004 introducing
the public to aspects of his work that few knew existed.
Marion Warren and Joanie Surette formed a
company in 2005, M. E. Warren Photography, LLC, to ensure that
Marion Warren’s photographs would remain available to the
public. Sales of his fine art photographs continued as well as
commercial installations in restaurants and offices.
Marion Warren was instrumental in helping
the Artwalk project win approval in the City of Annapolis. His
photographs, as well as many vintage images he and his daughter
Mame Warren unearthed, are featured prominently in the lobby
display of the new Severn Bank Building on West Street.
Marion Warren spent the last years
of his life working toward the goal of “keeping my pictures
alive when I’m gone.” He continued to print his photographs in
his darkroom well into his eighties, while also embracing the
new digital printing processes. During his sixty-year career as
a photographer and master printer, he had experienced many
advances in the ever-changing world of photography. He lived to
see the digital transition and welcomed it for the beauty of the
end result – exquisitely printed photographs of his timeless
Until his death in September, 2006 at the
age of eighty-six, Marion Warren worked almost daily with his
favorite images from throughout his more-than-sixty-year career.
From the farms of rural Missouri where he grew up to the deck of
a skipjack plying the choppy waters of the Chesapeake, Marion
Warren bore witness to his time and his place and we are all the
richer for his vision.
Visit us on Facebook