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Remembering Kurt Markus Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

16 June 2022

Kurt Markus, whose fine art photography encompassed portrait, editorial, fashion and landscapes genres, died in Santa Fe on June 12. He had been suffering from Parkinson's disease and Lewy body disease. He was 75.

Before moving to Santa Fe where he was photographing Monument Valley, Markus spent much of his adult life in Kalispell, Mont., where he and his wife Maria raised two sons, Weston and Ian, who also went to work with him, and a daughter, Jade.

He was born in Whitefish, Mont., on April 6, 1947, to Raymond Markus and Juanita Johnson. He attended West Point where he threw the javelin in track and field. After graduation he joined the U.S. Army Rangers.

He fell in love neither with ranching nor the military. "When I got out of the Army in the early '70s," he said. "I knew one thing -- that whatever I was going to do with my life, I wanted to love it and believe in it."

'I've always associated the click of the shutter with the word "Yes." '

He found that in photography.

Inspired by Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams and other fine art photographers, he taught himself the craft and went to work around the world from the Solomon Islands to Yemen to Namibia to the Grand Canyon.

He made a name for himself with his portraits of cowboys, publishing three books of cowboy photography: After Barbed Wire, Buckaroo, and Cowpuncher (2002), which was named the most outstanding art book of year by the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

A master printer, his portraiture extended into the world of celebrities, including Meryl Streep, B.B. King, Cormac McCarthy and Cindy Crawford.

"I have entered into an unspoken, unwritten and generally inscrutable pact with the people I have photographed and lived among," he explained. "If I promise not to tell all I know about them, they will do the same for me."

He also focused on the sport of boxing, photographing Mike Tyson but also hopefuls battling for a name in Dublin, Mexico City and Havana.

His fashion photography was published by Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Mirabella, Esquire, Elle and Harper's Bazaar. He traveled the world shooting for clients that included Armani, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Banana Republic and Liz Claiborne.

Capturing images with a Linhof view camera, his Web site's About page describes his approach:

Markus approaches his subjects with what he has called a "simple-hearted" curiosity and he remains stubbornly old-school in his methods. A master of the dark room -- his "escape hatch," as he calls it -- he prints and tones his own gelatin silver prints and he remains suspicious of digital tricks and sleights of hand. "I believe only in the rectangle," he has said. "Filling that rectangle with a photograph remains the most challenging thing you can do. If you have to go outside of it, bringing in other non-photographic things to put inside, you run the risk of gimmickry. For me, the most powerful expression is the simplest."

Markus was awarded several Clio Awards and Life magazine's Alfred Eisenstaedt Award. He directed music videos and documentaries, wrote screenplays and shot advertising campaigns for clients that included BMW, Nike and Kodak.

"I consider it a gift to have found photography and made my life in it," he said. "I never thought of it as a job. I've always associated the click of the shutter with the word 'Yes.'"

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