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By Cathy Newman Photographs by Sarah Leen

Writer, photographer, explorer: Luis Marden’s 64 years with National Geographic shaped the magazine.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

There didn’t seem to be a corner of the universe that didn’t interest him. He never just covered a story; he lived it—rather; he inhabited it—wrapping himself in the subject as if in a cashmere coat. He didn’t just write about bamboo; he grew a stand of tonkin bamboo in his yard. In addition to buying the finest bamboo fly rods he could find, he built his own; at last count he had 50 split-cane rods.

His passion was embellished by theatrical flair. When he spoke French, you could almost see him twirling his mustache with Gallic flair. In Spain he assumed the beret, the stance, the gestures of a Spaniard. Once in Italy, Ed Jones, a fellow staffer, ran into him on a bridge. Jones didn’t recognize him at first; Marden had returned to his Italian roots.

He was self-effacing about his accomplishments but not unaware of collegial jealousies. “The tragedy of Marden was that he was not born a British lord,” his colleague Kenneth MacLeish once said, with a whiff of envy.

He dressed and acted the part. His manners were impeccable, his bearing courtly. You would see him in the halls talking with a colleague, slightly stooped, a deferential bend of the head, as if bowing toward the person with whom he was conversing. He loved beautiful things—the perfect varnish of a Payne rod, the burled walnut of a Jaguar dashboard, the graceful lines of a Nakashima chair. He not only noticed details, he collected them, storing each fact in his retrieval bank until the opportune moment when the light clicked on. If chance favors the prepared mind, his was in a constant state of red alert.

The office was wall-to-wall books, stacks of dictionaries and grammars in different languages—Tahitian, Fijian, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, Danish, Arabic, Tongan, Turkish, Maori; books on celestial navigation, sailboats, fish, birds, orchids; autographed photographs from the King of Tonga, Cousteau, Orville Wright; and, on a corner table, an old brass diving helmet from the Mediterranean. In later years his door bore two inscribed plaques: Lat 38° 54´ 17´´ N Lon 77° 02´ 18´´ W, representing the coordinates of his office. He was a man, you might say, who knew precisely where he stood.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic Magazine.

In More to Explore the National Geographic Magazine team shares some of their best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Luis Marden arrived at National Geographic with his lightweight Leica hanging from a neck strap in 1934 and soon took a heavy load off Geographic photographers. At that time instantaneous exposure was unknown. Photographers were lugging around suitcases full of equipment: heavy glass plates for film and bulky Ica and Graflex cameras with shutter speeds so slow tripods were indispensable. In 1931 staff photographer W. Robert Moore took 200 pounds (90 kilograms) of equipment with him to China, 150 pounds (70 kilograms) of it glass plates alone. As Marden recalls, “To take 12 pictures you had to have 24 pieces of 5-by-7-inch (13-by-18 centimeter) glass, half of them thick plate glass to withstand the jolting in the field.” An early jibe was ‘photographers, like gorillas, had long arms, with knuckles dragging the ground because of the weight they carried.’ But Marden’s Leica, a so-called miniature camera, changed all that, and as a champion of 35-mm Kodachrome he brought a new dimension to the pages of National Geographic Magazine.

* * * *

Readers of Cathy Newman’s ode to the Society’s multifaceted Luis Marden might wonder about the spelling of the two species named after him. The orchid species Epistephium mardenii ends in double ii, but the sea flea Dolobrotus mardeni ends in a single i. The reason lies in the strict rules for botanical names. When the orchid was first discovered and its name published in Marden’s 1971 orchid article as Epistephium mardeni, the international rules book was not as well-known. Now, with 300 to 500 new orchids to be named each year, orchid identifiers follow the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature to organize the confusion. Any new species named for a man and ending in a consonant other than r has a double ii ending. All species discovered by women close with iae.

History of Kodak
Check out a timeline of memorable firsts in the development of cameras and film by the Eastman Kodak Company.

Missouri Botanical Garden
Search the Missouri Botanical Gardens’ huge database of plants around the world for the scientific names of species.

The American Orchid Society
From the American Orchid Society’s central website you can link to orchid growers and societies around the United States as well as international societies.

Find how-to photography sections, reviews on equipment, and tips on traditional
and digital techniques. (This site is linked on our main website as well.)


During his long career Luis Marden wrote or photographed—or both—61 articles and contributed to 5 books. A complete listing follows:

Everyday Life in Bible Times. National Geographic Books. By Pritchard, James B., Kramer, Wilson, ed. National Geographic Books, 1977.

The Book of Fishes. National Geographic Books, 1961.

A Columbus Casework. National Geographic Books, 1986.

Great Adventures with National Geographic: Exploring Land, Sea, and Sky. National Geographic Books, 1963.

Wondrous World of Fishes. National Geographic Books, 1969.

Magazine Articles Photographer
“Exploring the Drowned City of Port Royal.” By Marion C. Link. National Geographic, Feb. 1960, 151-183.

“Cape Canaveral’s 6,000-mile Shooting Gallery.” By Allan C. Fisher, Jr. National Geographic, Oct. 1959, 421-471.

“Reaching for the Moon.” By Allan C. Fisher, Jr. National Geographic, Feb. 1959, 157-171.

“Hydrofoil Ferry ‘Flies’ the Strait of Messina.” By Gilbert H. Grosvenor. National Geographic, Apr. 1957, 493-496.

“Exploring Davy Jones’s Locker with Calypso.” By Jacques-Yves Cousteau. National Geographic, Feb. 1956, 149-161.

“Aviation Medicine on the Threshold of Space.” By Allan C. Fisher, Jr. National Geographic, Aug. 1955, 241-278.

“Aviation Looks Ahead on Its 50th Birthday.” By Emory S. Land. National Geographic, Dec. 1953, 721-739.

“Fact Finding for Tomorrow's Planes.” By Hugh L. Dryden. National Geographic, Dec. 1953, 757-780.
“Marineland, Florida’s Giant Fish Bowl.” By Gilbert G. La Gorce. National Geographic, Nov. 1952, 679-694.

“Down East Cruise.” By Thomas Horgan. National Geographic, Sept. 1952, 329-369.

“Shad in the Shadow of Skyscrapers.” By Dudley B. Martin. National Geographic, Mar. 1947, 359-376.

“Buenos Aires: Queen of the River of Silver.” By Maynard O. Williams. National Geographic, Nov. 1939, 561-600.

“Riatas and Romance on the Rio Grande.” National Geographic, Oct. 1939, 431-462.

“Connecticut, Prodigy of Ingenuity.” By Leo A. Borah. National Geographic, Sept. 1938, 279-326.

“The Restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.” By W.A.R. Goodwin. National Geographic, Apr. 1937, 402-443.

“Guatemala Interlude.” By John E. Long. National Geographic, Oct. 1936, 429-460.

“Boston Through Midwest Eyes.” By Frederick Simpich. National Geographic, July 1936, 37-82.

“Ama, Sea Nymphs of Japan.” National Geographic, Jul. 1971, 122-135.

“The Friendly Isles of Tonga.” National Geographic, Mar. 1968, 345-367.

“The Other Side of Jordan.” National Geographic, Dec. 1964, 790-825.

“Tahiti, ‘Finest Island in the World.’” National Geographic, July 1962, 1-47.

“Huzza for Otaheite!” National Geographic, Apr. 1962, 435-459.

“Amalfi, Italy’s Divine Coast.” National Geographic, Oct. 1959, 472-509.

“Dzibilchaltun: Up from the Well of Time” National Geographic, Jan. 1959, 110-129.

“The Islands Called Fiji.” National Geographic, Oct. 1958, 526-561.

“I Found the Bones of the Bounty.National Geographic, Dec. 1957, 725-789.

“Camera Under the Sea.” National Geographic, Feb. 1956, 162-200.

“Bruges, the City the Sea Forgot.” National Geographic, May 1955, 631-665.

“Sicily the Three-Cornered.” National Geographic, Jan. 1955, 1-48.

“Gloucester Blesses Its Portuguese Fleet.” National Geographic, July 1953, 75-84.

“Tropical Gardens of Key West.” National Geographic, Jan. 1953, 116-124.

“Spain’s Silkworm Gut.” National Geographic, July 1951, 100-108.

“Holy Week and the Fair in Sevilla.” National Geographic, Apr. 1951, 499-530.

“Speaking of Spain.” National Geographic, Apr. 1950, 415-456.

“The Purple Land of Uruguay.” National Geographic, Nov. 1948, 623-654.

“Guatemala Revisited.” National Geographic, Oct. 1947, 525-564.

“Land of the Painted Oxcarts.” National Geographic, Oct. 1946, 409-456.

“Coffee Is King in El Salvador.” National Geographic, Nov. 1944, 575-616.

“A Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.” National Geographic, Aug. 1944, 161-192.

“Americans in the Caribbean.” National Geographic, June 1942, 723-758.

“Panama, Bridge of the World.” National Geographic, Nov. 1941, 591-630.

“Hail Colombia!” National Geographic, Oct. 1940, 505-536.

“On the Cortés Trail.” National Geographic, Sept. 1940, 335-375.

“Caracas, Cradle of the Liberator: The Spirit of Simón Bolívar, South American George Washington, Lives On in the City of His Birth.” National Geographic, Apr. 1940, 477-513.

“Master of the Deep: Jacques-Yves Cousteau, 1910-1997.” National Geographic, Feb. 1998, 70-79.

“Restoring Old Ironsides.” National Geographic, June 1997, 38-53.

“The First Landfall of Columbus.” National Geographic, Nov. 1986, 572-577.

“Wreck of H.M.S Pandora.National Geographic, Oct. 1985, 423-451.

“The Bird Men.” National Geographic, Aug. 1983, 198-217.

“Bamboo, the Giant Grass.” National Geographic, Oct. 1980, 502-529.

“The Continental Shelf: Man’s New Frontier.” National Geographic, Apr. 1978, 495-531.

“The Renaissance Lives On in Tuscany.” National Geographic, Nov. 1974, 626-659.

“The American Lobster, Delectable Cannibal.” National Geographic, Apr. 1973, 462-487.

“The Exquisite Orchids.” National Geographic, Apr. 1971, 485-513.

“Titicaca, Abode of the Sun.” National Geographic, Feb. 1971, 272-294.

“The Sailing Oystermen of Chesapeake Bay.” National Geographic, Dec. 1967, 798-819.

“Madagascar: Island at the End of the Earth.” National Geographic, Oct. 1967, 443-487.

“Saga of a Ship, the YankeeNational Geographic, Feb. 1966, 263-269.

“The Man Who Talks to Hummingbirds.” National Geographic, Jan. 1963, 80-99.

“To Market in Guatemala.” National Geographic, July 1945, 87-104.

“Yucatán, Home of the Gifted Maya.” National Geographic, Nov. 1936, 591-644.


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