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. We are neighbors and knew Marv to be a kind and gentle man.

    1. Thank you, Mark. I appreciate your sharing with us. Sincerely, Cynthia

  2. It was a pleasure to chat with him. He always had a big smile that brightened my day. I am glad to know a bit more about him and his work in photography.

    1. Thank you, Linda, for your kind words.

  3. Mike Keegan says:

    I only knew Marv as a weekly Meals on Wheels driver, but his friendliness and positive attitude were always on display and I felt totally comfortable chatting with him. I’m interested in photography and he happily showed me some of his work. The obituary was enlightening – he certainly lived a wonderful life

    1. Thank you, Mike, for the kind and engaging service you provided my father, and for sharing your memories with us!

  4. Having grown up in San Marino, I remember him as Mr. Carlson. Every single family event was memorialized by him, all of my photos as a child, for school, our family photos, my wedding…everything! Julie and I were in the same class at, I think Town & Country School. Blessings to you all, he was the nicest person. Please say hello to Julie for me. I’m deeply sorry for your loss


    Ginna Arnold-Lazar

    1. Thank you, Ginna, for your kind thoughts. I’m letting Julie know as well.

  5. Mr. Carlson was easily the friendliest person I ever met. Cynthia and I were dating. I had undergone the first meeting with her mother (Marv’s ex), step-father, and brother at a lunch the week prior (I call it “The Nuremburg brunch”), and with serious trepidation, came to Cynthia’s home Friday evening to meet “dad.” I knocked on the door with terrified foreboding and entertained thoughts of simply turning around and becoming a monk.
    The door opened and with the biggest smile you ever saw, Mr. Carlson extended a hand and exclaimed, “Charlie Horse! What do you say?!”
    In that moment I knew I had at least one family ally in this budding romantic relationship.

    In one memorable trip up to visit him in 2012, Mr. Carlson drove us all over the state. As we were coming down a mountain pass out of the Cascades towards lake Diablo, the downgrade became very steep. Mr. Carlson’s van picked up speed and sharp curves welcomed us.
    Cynthia and I became more and more nervous. Sensing our worry, Mr. Carlson, with the cool aplomb of a professional airline pilot stated, “Don’t worry. I had the van checked out before you came up to see me. The mechanic assured me that I have at least 20% left on my brake pads!” Marv was not kidding and was very confident.
    Cynthia closed her eyes and squirmed while I, in the back of the van, began the Rosary prayer even though I had no beads or knowledge of the Catholic faith.

    Over the years, Mr. Carlson drove down the coast to visit us on his yearly circuit, camera in hand. Sometimes we flew up to him for a visit (with his camera in his hands).
    Of the many hundreds of photos of Cynthia and I, taken through the years, our top three favorites of us were taken by Mr. Carlson.

    Mr. Carlson was a real “character.” He will be missed but never forgotten. In the only real and serious talk we ever had (Thanksgiving of 2022) he said to me, “Charlie, my name is Marv. Please call me Marv.”

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