New Jersey photographer became a visual storyteller
One never knows how or what will start your life on a new trajectory, but for photographer Marianne Leone it was in 1999 when she visited the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia, New Jersey, four miles from the Delaware Water Gap.
“I fell in love with the wolves and the people running the place as well as their mission,” Leone said. “In late winter of 2000, I did a photoshoot with one of the owners at the time, Dan Bacon. He was a wildlife photographer and he let me borrow his SLR Canon to take my photos. It was love at first sight. After that I bought a camera, and took a class at Camden County College to learn the basics of photography and never looked back!”
In 2006, years after honing photography skills through fences with wolves, she visited the Philadelphia Zoo for the opening of Big Cat Falls. That is when she captured a photo of cheetahs and was told by many that she needed to submit it the Zoo. “I soon learned that the Philadelphia Zoo had the America’s First Zoo Camera Club (AFZCC) and so I submitted my ‘portfolio’ and was accepted!” She has been volunteering her time and donating all her images to them for 14 years. “I still love it! In the discovery of photographing some of the 1,300 species there, I kept noticing many animal enclosures had stamped signage that read ‘species in danger.’ That was curious and fascinating as well as upsetting to me. I did a lot of research and learned that over one-in-four mammals had an endangered species status, and one-in-three amphibians, and so on.”
This inspired her to create an exhibit at the Garden State Discover Museum and a companion coffee table book called A World Without. Over the years this focus has grown, and she followed up with a book three years ago called 1 Zoo. 10 Years. 100 Images, a retrospect of her photography of the zoo’s collection. “My common thread in messaging is that we need to learn how to co-exist with all of these incredible species. I donated net proceeds of sales back to the Philadelphia Zoo’s species conservation projects.”
But capturing these majestic and endangered animals aren’t her only photography passion, it’s also the grandeur of nature but to be more precise, America’s National Parks. In 2000 her family traveled to Alaska on a cruise and she “was in awe of the sweeping grandeur of space and I took some photos with my point and shoot camera. Soon after I bought the SLR Canon camera for the wolves and started to plan my experiences more intentionally with these great spaces. I began to trade in vacations at the Jersey shore for adventures to National Parks. I felt responsible to share what I experienced, so I did photo blogs and updated my website. I evolved into a visual storyteller.
“For the National Parks I am simply trying to convey nature’s beauty and that it needs to remain protected for future generations to see. I have been to Yellowstone the most, five times. It is clearly my favorite! I also love photographing the wildlife in their natural habitat. I traveled to Yellowstone in the winter for a ‘Wolf and Wildlife Expedition.’ In 2016, to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Services, I created National Parks Splendors, a coffee table book of the 31 parks and places I have been to and sell images on large canvases. I have shown several National Park exhibits and I donate net proceeds to National Park Conservation Association. I self-identify as a ‘wildlife and landscape photographer with a lens focused on species in danger and national parks’.”
In addition to photography, Marianne is also deeply involved with the Voorhees Arts Council but that came about in an unusual way as well: an opportunity to “be one” with lemurs. “In November 2014 I was working with the Markeim Arts Center in Haddonfield and was good friends with Liz Madden, their Executive Director at the time. Her sister was the Director of Peace Corp for the country of Madagascar. Opportunity! I traveled with Liz 21 hours to Madagascar, to spend about 20 minutes on Lemur Island having lemurs jumping on my head and being ‘one with’ the lemurs. Lemurs are native only to the island of Madagascar and 103 of 107 species are threatened with extinction, 33 being critically endangered. I then showed my Marvels of Madagascar exhibit in art galleries and local coffee shops. In November of 2017, through my volunteering with Sustainable Voorhees, I had formed our “creative team” and that later morphed into the Voorhees Arts Council (VAC), with strong support from our Township.
“I developed the concept of the arts council for local artists and stakeholders with Natalie Sutherland of Sutherland Framing & Fine Art, a long time Voorhees business, and she was a fellow photographer. We served as the founding Co-Chairs of the VAC.
“In March 2018 when I was taking my Lemurs images down from the coffee shop, I hated the thought of them going back in the closet, back in the dark, in the storage room in my home. They had a story to tell. It was at that time that the idea for a Voorhees Arts Center & Gallery came into existence. By the end of June 2018, we had a space and opened the Gallery in the Voorhees Town Center Mall (formerly Echelon Mall) and it has been the home to 30 resident artists ever since.”
She was born and raised in Stratford and currently lives in Voorhees with her wife Lisa. They have been together for almost 17 years and been married for six.
“I could not take the stand that I can for the animals and places of this world without the incredible support of my wife who lets me be me. In the words of John Muir—‘The mountains are calling, and I must go’.”