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Volume 15, Issue 51 ~ December 20 - December 26, 2007

Marion Warren:
The Legend Lives On

Find three treasures in this documentary tribute to the great Bay photographer

by Carrie Madren, Bay Weekly staff writer

We’ve known Marion Warren through the way he sees the world, through his photographs of everyday people just like us. We’ve known his artistic passions in the way he captures moods and truths.

Now, for the first time on film, we can see and hear the picture-maker himself.

Watching Marion Warren blow out his 84th birthday candles, set up for an outdoor picture and develop slides in his darkroom, we see the photographer in the twilight of his life, still working as he always did.

These were the years Warren adopted Joanie Surette as his personal and business assistant. And the years that digital photographer and filmmaker Richard Olsenius joined the Warren team to digitize Warren’s hand-made images.

This past year — a year since Warren’s death on September 8, 2006 — Surette and Olsenius schemed a tribute DVD to help Warren’s work survive him.

In Chesapeake: The Work of Marion Warren, Surette says, Warren “accomplished what he set out to do: have his pictures live on.”

The 75-minute documentary brings us into Warren’s world in three ways. First, an eight-minute video montage, narrated by Surette, shows Warren in late life, working in the darkroom, setting up for a photograph and inspecting his slides.

Second is an 11-minute slideshow of Warren’s photographs — many are boats and water scenes from the mid-20th century — set to an original, soothing score by Olsenius. Zooming in, across and out of photographs adds movement to the still images; up-close, we study details of pictures and marvel at the art in everyday life.

Last, a screensaver-like gallery of Warren’s images — each stay up for a few minutes — so that your television or computer screen serves as a frame for fine art.

“We haven’t seen the format before,” she says of the three-part sequence. “It really just evolved.”

The Making of a Team

“Marion always drew to him who he needed,” Surette says.

Surette met Warren in July of 2001, late in his life, when she helped with graphic design at Warren’s retrospective exhibit at St. John’s College. When they first met to discuss the exhibit, she brought a bag of tomatoes.

“He teased me for years that it was the tomatoes that won him over,” says Surette, who believes the serendipity of becoming Warren’s late-in-life professional partner was that she was “in the right place at the right time.” She is now managing partner of M.E. Warren Photography, LLC.

Olsenius came into Warren’s life because of Warren’s most famous photograph — the one of the full moon shimmering over the Bay Bridge.

“Marion’s eyesight was failing, and he dropped the original four-by-five, large-format negative that he was still printing from,” Surette recalls. “We needed to salvage the negative.” She was also concerned about who would print the photos when Warren was gone.

A gallery in Lewes, Delaware, recommended Olsenius.

“He wasn’t familiar with Marion because he hadn’t been in area that long,” Surette says. After 22 hours of working digitally on the negative to take out the scratches, he produced a print from a high-end digital scanner that impressed Warren and Surette.

It was the traditional film photographer’s first taste of the new digital wave. “Marion was aware of the fact he was in the middle of this change,” Surette says.

That’s how Surette grows Warren’s business now.

“The three of us clicked and we started giving Richard negatives one at a time for him to clean up and repair,” Surette says.

Marion also delved into his color collection, which had gone largely unprinted because he had no control over the developing process. Olsenius’ digital prints produce archival-quality color.

“He was able to get behind Marion’s eyes,” Surette says. The old and young photographer worked together.

Now, Surette says, “Richard’s the only one authorized to continue printing his work.” Olsenius has made digital negatives of about a hundred of Warren’s images.

The Making of a Tribute

Olsenius — whom Surette calls a “techno-Renaissance man” — shot the video footage of Warren without any plan for using it.

Only this summer, when the partners viewed the footage, did Olsenius imagine a documentary. The two collaborated on narration, which Surette recorded in one take. Within months, the DVD was finished.

Creating the DVD was “emotional for both of us, because we both loved him so much,” Surette says, “but we felt like we were able to give a little back of what he gave to us.

“Seeing him in the various scenarios — at an art opening, at his birthday party, down here on my farm and particularly the footage in his darkroom — captures the spirit of a man who loved what he did and did it until the day he died,” Surette says.

That’s the gifted and generous man behind the legendary photographs to whom Surette and Olsenius hope to introduce to you.

Chesapeake, The Work of Marion Warren, $30; available at The Marion Warren Gallery, 14 State Circle, Annapolis; The Annapolis Collection Gallery, 45 West Street, Annapolis; HomePort, 1004 Main Street, Galesville; and online at

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