Marvin Richard Carlson

August 27, 1929 - March 31, 2023

Marvin Richard Carlson

August 27, 1929 - March 31, 2023




Marvin Carlson was born in Jamestown, New York, on August 27, 1929, the only child of Swedish immigrant parents.

Four years later, for his father’s health, the Carlson family moved to the warm and sunny Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, CA , in the San Gabriel Valley, where Marvin graduated from high school with straight A’s at the age of 14. A photography course he took in junior high set his life course. Marv worked as a portrait photographer for the original Wanick-King Studio in Pasadena while attending John Muir and Pasadena City College. After graduation in 1950, he joined the Navy.

Before taking off for Photographic School in Pensacola, Florida, Marv married schoolteacher Martha Layton of Kellogg, Idaho. They met at an Art Fair in Pasadena where he was exhibiting photographs and she was displaying ceramics.

At Photographic School in Pensacola, Florida, Marv graduated with top honors and was then given a post in Washington, D.C. where he served for three years at the Navel Photographic Center, studying research and development of a new-fangled idea called color film. During his tour-of-duty in the Capitol, his duties included the operation of a photo studio for top ranking Navy officers and he was the personal photographer for the Presidential social events. Marvin also practiced portraiture and among his work were new interior photographs of the White House after its renovation and a portrait session with President Harry Truman. Off-duty hours often found Marvin working for the famous Washington photographer Bradford Bachrach.

Some of Marvin’s work was later used as Naval recruiting posters. These photographs were done-over by an artist and turned into a painting or sketch depicting a submarine, soldier, ship, or other topic.

In 1954, after his tour of duty, Marvin and Martha returned to Southern California and Marv opened his portrait studio, Marvin Carlson Studio, at 2481 Mission Street in San Marino where he would become known for his antics to make children smile and his talents in highlighting the beauty of brides and the bonds of families.

Many Pasadena and San Marino families have an original Marvin Carlson family portrait on their wall or mantle that Marvin printed himself in his studio darkroom.

Marv was known for his warmth and kindness to all. After many years of active membership, he was elected President of the San Marino Rotary Club in 1970. Previous club activities of note were editing the newsletter, serving as club photographer, serving on the Board of Directors, serving as program chairman, serving as Vice-President, and leading the effort to organize a Rotary District Conference themed “Building Bridges of Friendship.”

Marv had three daughters, Cynthia, Julie and Wendy, and one son, Chris, with Martha. He blessed their lives with a love of nature through annual summer backpacking trips, winter ski trips, and road trips to National and State Parks. They all learned patience while Dad tried to capture the best angles and the best lighting for photographing the California High Sierras, the California coastline, and many other scenic places. They also learned to patiently pose for an infinite number of photos chronicling their lives and activities.

After Marv’s first marriage dissolved in 1978, he met Larene Wilcoxson Seaman on a Sierra Club hike. They hit it off with many similar interests in nature and art, and shared a similar gentleness of character. At the insistence of all family members, they married at the end of 1981. This brought two step-sons, Roy and Gary, into the family fold.

In 1995, after often photographing several generations of family weddings, Marv retired. That same autumn, Marv and Larene’s van broke down in Bellingham, WA, while they were visiting Gary who was working there designing kayaks for Ocean Kayak. They fell in love with the area during this delay in their trip, made a contingent offer on a home in the Fairhaven/Samish area, and went back to Southern California to sell their home and business and move up to the Pacific Northwest. Thus began another chapter of Marv’s life.

Marv did not slow down. He continued to explore photographic methods and techniques, and even eventually made the switch from film to digital photography. He and Larene landscaped their yard. They continued to take trips to beautiful places. They became a vacation haven for family members. They made new friends. Marv marched for expanded greenways and spaces in Bellingham. Larene’s passing in 2004 was hard. Marv relied heavily on the many friendships he had developed over the years. Once a year he trekked down to Southern California to maintain the ties he had with family and friends there.

Marv aged in place, finally slowing down in his 90’s, until he peacefully passed away at home on March 31, 2023 with family and friends present. He will be deeply missed, though is certainly experiencing many happy reunions with those missing him who have already reunited with Christ our Savior.

Marv is survived by his four children: Cynthia Carlson Clary, Julie Carlson, Wendy Carlson Lum, Chris Carlson; two step children: Roy Seaman, Gary Seaman; one grandson: Brandon Bodkin; and four step grandchildren: Jeremy, Chloe, Terence, and Serena Seaman.

He is currently being privately mourned. A memorial is planned for a later date.

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13 responses to Marvin Richard Carlson

  1. It was always fun to spend time with Marv, and the more the better. He was always cheerful, patient, optimistic, and supportive. I spent many memorable trips backpacking with Marv in the Sierras. He had a way of making a trip even better than what the beauty of the Sierras provided. Enjoying beautiful vistas on top of mountain peaks after a hard climb, caught in violent thunderstorms, dinners around warm campfires, sharing cramped quarters in 2 man tents, and fending off intrusive black bears were always an experience with Marv. I learned a lot about photography from him. I learned the quality of the picture was 90% determined (maybe more) by the photographer. We could stand in the same place with a sweeping view of the glacial covered peaks, alpine lakes, and pine forests, using identical cameras and film, and I’d almost always be disappointed with how my pictures turned out, yet amazed at how Marv could capture the full realm of the natural beauty. He was an amazing hiker and though I was much younger, I had to work to keep up with him. I don’t know if I ever met anyone who loved people and the outdoors as much as Marv. He knew how to bring out the very best in us when taking our family portraits using his crazy antics and props. I’m glad Sherry and I got the opportunities to visit Marv in Bellingham where he’d take us to visit the sights including the waterfront areas, parks and Mt Baker. But best of all was spending time with him. I have several of his pictures hanging in my office; beach, Yosemite and Bryce that will always remind me of the wonderful friend he was. I’d sometimes wonder “who is this guy” and how does he do it. How can a person so easily make people smile. Marv brought a lot of joy to a lot of people in this world and I’m thankful I and my family were included. Thanks Marv.

    1. Thank you, Jerry and Sherry, for sharing these memories with us! – The Carlson-Seaman siblings

  2. Your dad‘s infectious smile is imprinted on my mind, especially for the times when he came to our house on Sherwood Road in San Marino to take our family portrait. This happened more than once maybe two or three times. You must be thrilled to have enjoyed the smile and the personality and the talent of your dad for so many years. I too share the hope of heaven through our Lord Jesus Christ, and I look forward to meeting him again with his big smile and his outstretched hand. Mark Vanderhoof Ph: 831-234-8117

    1. Cynthia says:

      Hi Mark, Thank you so much for taking the time to share your memories of Dad and your testimony of Christ with us! Blessings, Cynthia Carlson

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