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 Ann Marsden  (1957 - 2012)

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Lived/Active: Minnesota      Known for: portrait photography, prominent persons

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is the online obituary of the photographer, St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 10, 2012

Ann Marsden, a prominent portrait photographer whose skill was peeling back a subject's outer shell, died last weekend after a two-year battle with cervical cancer. She was 55.

Marsden shot portraits of Barack Obama, Bill Cosby, Al Gore, Stephen King and countless artists and theater performances in the Twin Cities. She was also interested in "obscure detail" -- veiny legs, a wrinkly forehead and not always one's face.

"I was born curious about people, places and things," Marsden said.

Marsden, who was born, raised and died in St. Paul, attended high school at Our Lady of Peace but never graduated. She said it was "spiritual" when she held a camera during a journalism class. As a teen, she worked at Finn's Cameras in downtown St. Paul and didn't put down a camera for the next 40 years.

"I want them to reveal who they are and see the light behind their eyes," Marsden said. "And have that borne through their truth than something I do to them."

But to coax her subject's true self into the view of her lens, Marsden often used music.

Lou Bellamy, the founder and artistic director of the Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, said she would often have the right music playing before the subject stepped into her studio.

"She could get stuff out of me that others couldn't," Bellamy said.

Stacia Rice, who was often in Marsden's viewfinder, said she made subjects feel comfortable.

"Anyone who hates to have their photo taken, myself included, she would change their opinion," said Rice, founder of the Torch Theater in St. Louis Park.

The expenses Marsden claimed on music led to an IRS audit about 15 years ago, said her brother Brian Marsden, an attorney in St. Paul.

"She explained that it was 'so I can find where my clients live and bring them out,' " he recalled. She contested the IRS' view that the expenses weren't for business purposes and won, Brian Marsden said.

For about the last 20 years, Marsden photographed theater productions, preparing beforehand by reading the play.

"I don't know of another photographer that did that," Bellamy said. "She knew what she was doing, and she came in so ready and with perspective."

Fellow photographer Michal Daniel met Marsden when he opened a custom photography processing lab in Minneapolis in 1981. She was his third customer and a patron for 10 years.
Daniel said he and Marsden would have spirited discussions on everything from art to how to approach life to handling difficult portrait subjects. He described her as kind, pushy, demanding and funny.

"She spiraled the universe upward every single day," Daniel said. "She was the ultimate interloper. She wanted to get into your mind and soul."

Marsden was diagnosed with Stage 2B cervical cancer in July 2010 and died Sunday evening, July 8, near two years later, said friend Lisa Nebenzahl. She underwent radiation treatments but couldn't complete the regimen, Nebenzahl said.

"She was really ravaged by treatment and devastating complications," Nebenzahl said.
Marsden was cared for by Ann Prim, her partner of 12 years, Nebenzahl said.

"It had been a huge struggle for the last two years, so it's a merciful blessing, but also so tragic," said Bain Boehlke, the founding artistic director of the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis.

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