Remembering photographer Ann Marsden

Photographer Ann Marsden died last night at home after a long battle with cervical cancer. She was 55. Among those at her side were Ann Prim, her partner of 12 years, and her best friend Lisa Nebenzahl.


Photographer Ann Marsden at a benefit in her honor at The Dakota in January 2011. Her mother Mary Marsden is seen in the background.

Photo by Terry Gydesen

A true photographer and artist to the last, Nebenzahl says Marsden asked for her partner to create a website and post photos there of her treatment and decline. You can see those photos here.

She wanted people to see what cancer looked like, as an artist and as a photographer – there are images up on the site that are very hard to see if you loved this woman… this woman who has made so many people look beautiful. It’s about witnessing the truth of the disease, the devastation, and what it truly looks like.

Nebenzahl says just in the last few months Marsden created a series of photographs that were in essence a poem about cancer, and even in her last hours she was talking about making pictures.

Known for her portraiture, her photography of local theater companies, and for her own personal art, the Minnesota native made friends easily with her intensely engaging personality. She was a regular photographer for Penumbra Theater, Jungle Theater, Minnesota Orchestra, MPR and many other Twin Cities cultural institutions, as well as a host of actors and musicians.


Portrait of Stacia Rice by Ann Marsden

Theater artist Stacia Rice worked with Marsden on several occasions. Rice also helped organize a Christmas carol sing in Marsden’s front yard when she was too weak to receive visitors.

I don’t know what I can say to encapsulate someone so magnificent. It’s hard to imagine her gone, because she had more life in her than anyone I’ve ever known. She knew how to capture the very essence of people she sat in a room with – that is why she is such a great photographer, and that is why she is so loved. I can only think that she is meant to go on to do greater things – that’s the only way I can understand her being gone.


Portrait of Stephen King by Ann Marsden

Longtime friend and fellow photographer Larry Marcus repeatedly uses the word “brilliant” when describing Marsden. He remembers the day he met her.

I believe it was 1974 or 75 – I was wandering around in St. Paul, shooting pictures and I wandered into Finn’s Camera, and I was greeting by this young beautiful person in the store, who immediately engaged me in meaningful and interesting conversation. I came in a few more times, and then she invited me to a party. We became friends and shared a studio together for close to twenty years – we were young people trying to make our way in the world and shooting photographs together.

The same intensity and intelligence and brilliance and affection that I experienced that first day at Finn’s Camera I experienced up until the very end with her. I saw her on Friday – she was having a good day.

Marcus said as a portrait photographer Marsden made “a place for people to really reveal themselves… and she did that by really opening up, too.”


Terry Gydesen and Ann Marsden at a James J. Hill House exhibit in 2009

Photo by Lisa Nebenzahl

Marsden taught photography for many years, and has numerous devoted mentees who credit her for their successful careers, including friend Terry Gydesen.

I think she is one of the greatest artists in Minnesota – she just was such a giver. Most people don’t like to have their picture taken, yet she always could draw out the essence of who somebody was, and just nail it. She could see inside the souls of people, and make their inner beauty shine. Every one of her photos has that special Ann Marsden quality – that light. I don’t know anybody who could get it the way she did.


Portrait of Minnesota Orchestra conductor Osmo Vanska by Ann Marsden. Vanska was an admirer of Marsden’s work, and appeared at her benefit.

Another devoted mentee is Dani Werner, who shared studio space with Marsden starting in 2003.

She took me under her wing and it’s because of her I’ve had a really great career. Ann is so creative and innovative with photography – she was always finding new ways to use light and express her vision. She could take a walk around the block and end up with a series of insightful and beautifully composed photos. She always had her camera on her hip or over her shoulder – it was like another limb for her. She was both passionate and intuitive with her work.

One person who wasn’t able to talk today is Marsden’s partner Ann Prim. Lisa Nebenzahl says Prim was Marsden’s full-time caregiver for the last two years. Nebenzahl says Prim’s career as a filmmaker helped Marsden to explore her own artwork in new and profound ways over the last decade.

You can hear Marsden talk about her work and career in her own words in this video from 2009:

  • mary Lucia

    A true Artist.

    Ann was one of the most graceful people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet and work with.

    A sad day indeed the world has lost a bright light.

  • Lynne Warfel

    Annie always made you feel like royalty in a photo shoot. She was generous beyond measure, kind and funny. She also genuinely cared about finding and naming one characteristic in her subject’s nature that she wanted to shine in a portrait. In over three different sessions with her over the last 15 years, she dubbed mine as: “the cat that ate the canary”. Both perceptive and hysterically funny. That was Annie. She was a truly unique and wonderful soul. I will miss her.

  • Douglas Carlsen

    Thank you Ann for all your life’s work. You will be missed.

  • Rex Schultrich

    I was a student of Ann’s years ago. She impressed upon me the idea of leaving your artistic “safe place” to take a risk will lead to new revelation.

    I’m sorry to hear of her passing, she will be missed.

  • Nel Stephens

    There may be another star sparkling in the night sky now, but many of us on earth are a sadden by Anne’s passing!

    I am comforted by knowing her physical battle & pain is over…

    We are fortunate that while her body is gone, her body of work will continue to amaze, enjoy & influence photographers & others for decades to go…

    I consider myself lucky to have met you, may you rest in peace,


  • Laura Lynne Tapper

    I was just driving by Ann’s old house last week where she did my first headshots 20 years ago. I was thinking about how nobody measured up to her and how I needed to reach out to her…..I was too late….She truly was one of a kind and made you feel the same way. May she rest in peace… free of pain….

  • Jennifer

    My deep condolences to you, Ann and Lisa, and to everyone else who knew and loved Ann Marsden. I did not know her, except by way of a few of her photos. But I, too, lost a dear friend to cervical cancer in 2002 – Tracey was 39 years old. May you find some peace.

  • John Abbott

    When I knew her Annie was a great person who could light up a room and become a center of attention within seconds. It was impossible to know her and not love her. I am willing to be that never changed. Annie, you will be missed!

  • I am one of the many people lucky enough to be photographed by Ann Marsden. She had the most wonderful, engaging presence, making all of her subjects feel as if they were the most interesting people in the world. My most humble and loving thoughts to her partner, her close friends and her family.

    Ann Reed

  • Melisande Charles

    I know few people or artists that have lived and worked with such vigor, passion and dedication as Ann. Her creativity spoke to beauty, truth, and profound insight. She spoke with a strong and vibrant visual voice. She was a whirl wind, a brilliant light, an inspiration and in her too short time on earth left a valuable artistic legacy. I hope that her memorial is a vast exhibition of her work that we can all visit and admire her talent, creativity and skills. This will help to keep her presence in our midst. Love

  • I have a photo that Ann made of me that I put out in a prominent place the other day and laughed to myself about the circumstances that surrounded the photo.

    Oh my! Does Minneapolis get less colorful without Ann in it. We all need to remember, as Melisande says, “the brilliant light and artistic legacy she represents.”

    We survivors need to meet regularly to marvel at her images and laugh about stories we all lived with her.

    I have often made photos muttering to myself, “Is this what Arnold Newman would do?” Now, I may ask, “Is this what Ann Marsden would do?”

  • Curtis Wenzel

    I met Ann when we were teenagers. She dug me because I knew how to play blues harmonica pretty well.

    “Curt,” she said, patting the step next to where she was sitting on her parents’ front porch. “You gotta teach me how to blow this damn harp. I can’t figure it out.”

    She was fourteen. We didn’t stand up off those steps until she could play an eight bar blues in G. It didn’t take that much time, but the girl didn’t quit until she had it down.

    She had a tremendous appetite for experience. A born artist.

  • I first met Anne at the studio she shared with Larry, Gus, and Craig back in the late 80’s. She had just start a portrait sitting and I was instantly impressed by how she worked her subject,so smooth ,so fluid almost effortless in appearance. So positive never an unkind word about anyone or anything and in this business that’s rare. I always felt energized after talking to her. I’ll hold on to that feeling for now.

  • lynne rossetto kasper

    Oh, what a big hole is left with her leaving. Ann made you take joy in yourself when you were in front of her camera. And what a smart, funny woman. She gave impulsive gifts, things you never want to give up because they are exactly what you’d have scooped up if you’d come across them.

    Ann, I don’t know if I believe in angels or hereafters, but for you I hope to hell they both exist and that they are singing you in with joy.

  • Lisa Ragsdale

    I knew several artists who had been photographed by Annie and I was always blown away by the authenticity of her work. But I never got to meet her. I just wanted to meet her once and say how much I valued her artistry, how great a photographer I knew she was. But now she is gone and we can only admire the work she left us with.

  • Keri Pickett

    My condolences to Ann’s family and to the many friends who have been touched by her short, yet very full life. I am comforted knowing she had loved ones by her side at her passing. Ann’s pictures remain to remind us of her interested eye and poetic approach to life. Dear Ann – I am lifting you up in love and light.

  • Johnny Hagen

    I am sorry to hear Ann has passed. I have many pieces of her photography and can only cherish these in her remembrance from now on. If there were more time and space I’d tell my favorite “Gus teaches Ann to popsicle stick” the parking meters story. I will save that for when we’re together. Love you, Ann.

  • Katy Kelley

    I met Annie when she was in high school sporting nonregulation purple and orange tights under her Our Lady of Peace uniform. Later she took pictures of my then young daughters Nina and Rose. Nina was nervous and Annie had the inspired idea of sprinkling potato chips on the floor and having a now giggling Nina stand on them. Who else would have thought of such a thing? The pictures and my memories of those photo shoots and of Annie are precious.

  • Kathy Graves

    I spent so many funny, warm moments with Ann in her studio and on location with my clients. She never failed to care for every single person in the room. The world is a much, much dimmer place without her.

  • Marcie Stein

    I first met Ann at a weekend workshop at Doug Beasley’s retreat Center in Taylor’s Falls. She was funny, generous, inspiring and encouraging. Soon after, I quit my day job to pursue photography. I would run into her from time to time and she would always take a minute to ask how things were going. In her work, both as a teacher and a portrait photographer she brought out the best in people. When I found this quote it made me think of her.

    “There are stars whose light only reaches the earth long after they have fallen apart. There are people whose remembrance gives light in this world, long after they have passed away. This light shines in our darkest nights on the road we must follow.”

    The Talmud

  • Paul Shambroom

    Ann was a treasure to us as a community, and to any individual who crossed her path.

  • I did not know Ann very well, but you did not need to spend more than a few moments with her to realize that she was a shining light. She possessed a grace that permeated her work as well as her interactions with others. I am very sad to hear this news. I know that her memory will remain alive in the hearts of everyone whose lives she touched….and there were so many.

  • Dear Ann,

    You blessed us with your love, light and vision.

    Your spirit will live on in so many of us, and through your countless works of art.

    May your family…and many friends…find peace each time they view your incredible works… and may each story that is told about you bring a sparkle to their eyes.

    That sparkle you captured always.

    Blessed Be….


  • Annie was a beautiful bright light in the Twin Cities art and photo community and will be remembered and missed for a long time to come.

  • Renee

    I didn’t know Anne but heard about her passing on listening to Jill and Steve on “The Currents” morning show. I watched her video just now and I am deeply moved. Thanks.

  • Peter Gold

    Although I’ve been inactive in the Twin Cities photo community for decades, I remember the energetic young Annie from years ago. Sad to hear of her passing.

  • Brad Cochrane

    I first saw Ann in Miss Bicuip’s kindergarten class at Groveland Elementry. First day of this new thing called “school” and we were all sitting on the floor in a big circle. Directly across from me was a girl with energy barely contained by self-possesion (her knees couldn’t decide if they should be criss-cross or tight-together under her chin). Even then, I knew that this is someone I should keep my eye on. As the years unfolded, our paths would parallel, drift apart and meet again but we always sat in the same big circle. I’ll hold a spot for you, Ann.

  • Marianne Combs

    This message came in today from Osmo Vanska, music director of the Minnesota Orchestra:

    Ann was a highly professional photographer who did her job with great enthusiasm and passion. She kept the feel of all the sessions very positive and gave some funny hints about how to keep my face looking better for the camera.

    Her drive was very intensive when she took pictures, it didn’t matter if it was with the whole orchestra or myself alone. We all will remember her photos and the way that she took them.



  • Mitchel Anderson

    She sold me my first camera system at West Photo in 1979. She had tremendous passion for photography.

    Along with her knowledge this passion really inspired me to become a photographer.

    I was shocked when I heard she passed.

    She will be missed.

  • Mark Luinenburg

    I never actually met Ann, but as a fellow Twin Cities photographer, have always been and will continue to be immensely impressed and inspired by her work. She raised the bar for all of us and made us all look good at the same time. Peace to you Ann, and to all your loved ones.

  • Gayle Ober

    I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to know Ann and to be photographed by her. She will be missed by many. A bright shining artistic light as gone dim, but will remain illuminated because of the wonderful photographs she left for us and for the vibrancy of her spirit, her endless energy and her warm smile. Vita brevis, ars longa!

  • Wendy Olson

    I have known Ann since we were babies, as our parents met at Macalester College. We rekindled our friendship in the early 70s; I went into Finn Photo with my father one day, as I also found my way into the passion of taking photographs. She was such a light there, so full of life, energy and loving passion brimming over! We kept in touch after I moved to NYC and met her there with Gus and friend Michael Sterling..I ended up returning home to Minnesota, landing in St. Paul’s warehouse finding a studio much to the credit of ANN drawing me warmly into her circle of friends there; now, still, the closest of friends I have ever known, and many of the most brilliant artists this state and country has. We started The Wall Street Gallery Artist Collective and I wrote the grants to fund it. Then the Lowertown lofts Coop began as the downtown realized how artists invigorated the area. Ann Marsden was among our friends who were the pioneers of Artists in warehouses, of St.Paul and Mpls. She epitomized the spirit and vigor of creativity that has shaped Minnesota as a profoundly artistic State, and the portraits and photographs she made, framed her enthusiasm about the gifts each person in this creative community touched others from and in all walks of life here. I will always hold dear, all the days and late nights we shared, alone and with friends, and family. She is part of us, and she will be greatly missed. ANN will be in our hearts, and in the spirit of life itself among us, always to be remembered with the great love and joy she shared for and with us all.

  • Robb Mitchell

    Ann always had a magnificent presence in her work and watching her on a shoot reminded us all that photography is not rooted in technical issues, bulky eqipment, film stock and chemical baths – photography and its resulting image about human interaction and seeing the magnification of the world around us through the eye of a perceptive interpreter. Ann brought herself to every photo shoot and each image she captured. Her legacy is ours.

  • Susan Murphy

    Deeply saddened to learn the news of the death of

    vibrant Annie. She was a gifted artist and

    teacher, and she inspired those she shared time with.

    I remember dancing to Aretha Franklin’s music

    at Vision Quest gathering, no one loved the music &

    movement more than her! Grateful for the gift of knowing

    her. Condolences to her loved ones. S. Murphy

  • Bruce Borich

    I also met Ann at Finn’s Photo. I was a UM student, working downtown. She was sweet and funny, and sold me a 25-year-old camera. It wasn’t quite right, and she talked the store into spending twice what I paid for it getting it fixed.

    I’ve been gone from the Twin Cities for 30 years, but I remember her and her parties very well. She was an original and everyone who met her will be saddened by the news of her passing.

  • Rosemary Davis

    I met Ann when I was recording sound for a gardening series and she was shooting the still photos to be used in a related magazine. We worked on this gig over several months and I remember how open she was about her life, and how much fun we had at lunch and out in the field (in this case it really was a field). Afterwards, she graciously shared some photo resources with me when I needed them. I remember going to her gallery show over in St. Paul, and seeing her latest personal work on her facebook page. I sure loved watching her work!

  • Bob Tracy

    Many did their part, but Ann was one of the early leaders and fighters to create a community for artists to live and work in Lowertown.

  • Judy Olausen

    It is hard to believe that this very bright light is gone. My heart actually aches from this terrible loss.

    Her good works and amazing talent will continue to inspire all who knew her or saw her photography.

  • Lars Hansen

    Ann sold me my first camera, Thanks Ann

  • Nancy Bundt

    Ann was a wonder. So brilliant, so intelligent, so talented. I loved the way she explained things, the stories and ideas that came with her. I always wished to know her better.

    We met when I used to go to West Photo over 30 years ago where she worked and we talked and I watched her grow as a photographer into this amazing talent. We worked together on a few projects and used to talk so much about creating. She was so humble it always surprised me and I wished to be more that way myself. She inspired me.

    The day she got her D3 I was in the photo store, she was excited, I was happy to see her, and the first photo she took with it was of me right there and then. I was so happy that day and she sent me that photo.

    I’m so sorry she is gone, and so sad that she suffered. I’ll miss her energy. I’ll miss her.

  • Barbara Burrets

    I met Ann through my good friend Gus Gustafson.

    I was always in awe of her magnanimous personality.

    My condolences to the Marsden family.


  • Holly Schroeder

    On many levels, Ann was the light in every room. I had the joy of interviewing her for a “Minnesota Monthly” cover story. We talked about so many things, including our favorite children’s books like the beloved “Eloise” and the series “The Box Car Children.” Her passion and zest for life, gave me such a creative charge. And then to be HER subject! I always felt blessed when I was in her viewfinder.

  • Sue Kyllonen

    I also learned the popsicle stick trick when parking on the street in front of the Wyman Building back in the day when Ann, Gus, and Larry shared their studio on the third floor. My memories of her are cherished and so many of them are life lessons. I have a belt that she whipped off of her pants to give to me when I commented how much I liked the worn leather and I wear it everyday. Her generosity has no limits. I know she is still with us and is smiling even though we are crying. I will always love her.

  • Perrin Post

    I knew Ann first as an actress getting new headshots 20 years ago and later as a theater producer. My last photography session with her was for a publicity photo for the musical NINE. Bradley Greenwald and 9 beautiful actress’ were the subject of this photo. Ann did this photo shoot for free because she was excited about the project. Then the recession hit and…alas the show did not make it to the stage. But…the photo shoot was memorable and I feel lucky to have had one more photo shoot starring the incredible “Ann Marsden”.