Luis Marden (born Annibale Luigi Paragallo) (January 25, 1913 – March 3, 2003) was an American photographer, explorer, writer, filmmaker, diver, navigator, and linguist who worked for National Geographic Magazine. He worked as a photographer and reporter before serving as chief of the National Geographic foreign editorial staff. He was a pioneer in the use of color photography, both on land and underwater, and also made many discoveries in the world of science.

Though he officially retired in 1976, Marden continued to write occasional stories. In total, he wrote more than 60 articles for the magazine.


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Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, of Italian heritage, Marden went by the name Louis Paragallo while growing up in nearby Quincy. Marden was introduced to photography at a chemistry class while attending Quincy Senior High School. His interest was intense and lasting. In 1932, at the age of 19, he wrote a book called Color Photography with the Miniature Camera, which may be the first book ever published on 35mm color photography.

Marden began his career at the WMEX radio station in Boston, where he had a photography program called Camera Club of the Air. On his station manager's recommendation, he changed his name to Luis Marden, his new surname a random selection from a phone book. He then worked as a freelance photographer for The Boston Herald.

His expertise in color photography subsequently brought him to National Geographic magazine, where he was officially hired on July 23, 1934. The magazine prided itself on publishing quality color photography, and Marden was making good use of a lightweight Leica, which could hang from a single neck strap. Marden persuaded the magazine to see the benefits of using the small 35mm cameras loaded with the new Kodachrome film over the bulky cameras with tripods and glass plates that were being used by the magazine's photographers at the time.

Marden's first assignment as a reporter was in the Yucatán Peninsula. After sailing on a tramp steamer, Marden explored the peninsula with a Model T Ford. He then acquired a mule.

Marden died of complications from Parkinson's disease in Arlington, Virginia, at the age of 90.

Underwater photography and diving

Marden and the Guanahani debate

In 1986 Marden and his wife Ethel Cox Marden, who was trained as a mathematician, attempted to replot the route they believed Christopher Columbus must have taken across the Atlantic. Though officially retired, Marden set sail from the Canary Islands to retrace Columbus's voyage to the New World. The Mardens concluded that Columbus made his first landfall—Columbus's "Guanahani"—at Samana Cay, not at San Salvador Island, also posited as Columbus's landfall, arguing that Columbus had landed much farther south than was initially believed.

Activities as a linguist

As a teenager, Marden had taught himself at least five languages as well as Egyptian hieroglyphs and later studied many others. His office is reported to have had stacks of dictionaries and grammars in different languages, including Tahitian, Fijian, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, Danish, Arabic, Tongan, Turkish, and Māori[5] Marden is cited as an authority in Webster's Third New International Dictionary for words such as "snick," "tot," and "sevillana."

Fly-rods and bamboo

Marden was an avid fly-fisherman, which led to his interest in bamboo, of which finer fly rods are made. This love led him to the bamboo groves of China's Guangdong, thereby becoming, in 1974, the first National Geographic representative since the Communist Revolution of 1949 to return to this country. Marden observed and photographed the cultivation and processing of Tonkin bamboo in its restricted growing area in southern China.

This assignment produced the article "Bamboo, The Giant Grass" (1980). "Raw material for implements of peace and war, this botanical cousin to rice, corn, and Kentucky bluegrass may be the world's most useful plant," Marden would write.[6] Marden also recounted the under-the-table maneuverings he engaged in for entry to Maoist China.

Marden made his own bamboo fishing rods. In 1997, he published his second book, The Angler's Bamboo, which not only describes the cultivation and processing of Tonkin bamboo, but also traces the history of the split-bamboo fishing rod.[7]

Other activities

Friendships and honors

Marden served as chief of the National Geographic foreign editorial staff, in which capacity he met and maintained friendships with King Hussein of Jordan and the King of Tonga and was knighted by the Italian government.

Marden House

Marden and his wife, Ethel Cox Marden, lived in "Fontinalis" (also known as Marden House), a house overlooking the Potomac built by Frank Lloyd Wright between 1952 and 1959. The spot had caught Marden's eye in 1944 when he and his wife and had been fishing for hickory shad (Alosa mediocris) along the Potomac, near Chain Bridge. After purchasing a plot of land, Marden continued the correspondence he had maintained with Wright since 1940, asking the architect to design a home for them. In 1938 Marden had seen a "dream house" in Life that Wright had designed for the typical American family.

It was not until 1952 that the designs from Wright finally came. The house is a flat-roofed, cinderblock home trimmed in mahogany that curves into the side of a hill; it comes to an abrupt point upriver, like the bow of a boat. "Our beautiful house ... stands proudly just under the brow of the hill, looking down always on the rushing water which constantly sings to it, day and night, winter and summer," Ethel wrote to Wright in 1959.[8]

After Marden moved to a nursing home in 1998, the house was purchased and refurbished by Jim Kimsey, co-founder of AOL, in 2000 for $2.5 million.


Named after Marden


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  2. ^ "National Geographic Icon Luis Marden Dies". Archived from the original on 2005-11-10. Retrieved 2006-03-15.
  3. ^ "Pitcairn Islands Study Center".
  4. ^ "1984 - Pandora Project - Museum of Tropical Queensland". Archived from the original on 22 May 2006. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 2006-05-21. Retrieved 2006-03-14.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "Old Photo Gallery".
  7. ^ "Bamboo Rods - New Books - The Aquatic Book Shop - -". Archived from the original on 17 March 2006. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  8. ^ Gowen, Annie (August 21, 2005). "The Wright Way". Washington Post Magazine.
  9. ^ "Epistephium Kunth 1822 -- the Genus".
  10. ^;pstrTaxa=312;pstrChecklistMode=2[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "History of Underwater Fluorescence Observation and Photography". Archived from the original on 16 March 2006. Retrieved 13 January 2022.