Photographer captures life at Yale

University Photographer Michael Marsland has been a Yale campus fixture for 36 years.
University Photographer Michael Marsland has been a Yale campus fixture for 36 years. Photo by Emily Foxhall.

Even after 36 years at Yale, University Photographer Michael Marsland is still finding new gargoyles.

A Yale photographer since 1975, Marsland has served as University photographer since 1987. Many of the archetypal pictures of the campus on the University’s website and in its publications are his, and on any given day new photos appear in the Yale Daily Bulletin, the Yale Alumni Magazine and other publications.

“I think he’s very, very devoted to capturing this place in photographs and to helping represent it to the world,” said Dan Hebert, deputy director of publications for the Yale Development Office.

Marsland has taken pictures of a majority of Yale’s administrators, high-profile professors, and visiting dignitaries, and has captured countless events on campus over the years. He has even taken aerial shots of the University from a helicopter three times.

Colleagues said that through this role, Marsland both captures and creates the feeling of Yale’s campus. Marsland’s work includes everything from images of students dangling their feet off a residential college rooftop to photos of Tony Blair addressing a class — it comes together to make a visual record of life at Yale.

As Yale Spokeswoman Elizabeth Stauderman put it: “He is the documenter of our institution!”

AN ‘INSTINCTIVE’ PHOTOGRAPHER

When Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) visited campus to meet with the dean of the School of Medicine on Feb. 28, Marsland was there. Middle-aged and wearing corduroy pants and a sweater, his appearance was unassuming. He carried just one Nikon D300 camera, saying that he hates lugging extra equipment.

But as the meeting began, he became animated, circling the table in the middle of the room, standing and crouching, taking shots from every angle. He slunk behind a potted tree in a corner of the room and moved quietly to kneel on the floor. When the conversation ended, he ran in front of the group for an image of them walking down the hall.

While press conferences are a regular assignment for Marsland, his work includes a much wider range. Recently, Marsland documented the faculty at the University’s new Global Health Leadership Institute, the swearing-in ceremony of Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins and the lab holding the controversial Machu Picchu artifacts.

Though Yale also employs photographers at its art galleries and libraries, Marsland, who works alone, is the University’s jack-of-all-trades.

“We know Mike gets it,” said Hebert, who first met Marsland 15 years ago while working on a newsletter for members of the Alumni Fund. “He’s going to go in and he’s going to take the right picture for our publications … He’s pretty instinctive about knowing what I want.”

LuAnn Bishop, editor of the Yale Bulletin, said she considers Marsland an honorary member of her staff, adding that he is her go-to photographer for everything from portraits to landscapes. Top administrators have gotten to know him through the countless moments he has documented, and University President Richard Levin called him “just a wonderful person.”

“He’s the visual representation of the University,” said Terry Dagradi, a member of Yale Information Technology Services’ “photo+design” group. “He knows how to be in a place with dignitaries and celebrities and just do his job.”

A SELF-CONTAINED UNIVERSE

Marsland, who grew up in Branford, Conn., began experimenting with photography as a teenager.

“You have to have that sensibility,” he said, referring to the ability to make sense of something visually. He added that he discovered his knack in high school when he built a darkroom in his kitchen.

Though he never completed a standard four-year undergraduate degree, Marsland said he earned a degree in art history at Charter Oak State College and one in photography from Paier College of Art in Hamden.

In 1975, Marsland stumbled across a job opening with the Yale Audio Visual Center as assistant to the YUAG photographer. After two years, he transferred over to the Center for British Art, then applied for the role as University photographer in 1987. One of his first assignments was photographing then-Vice President George H.W. Bush ’48 when he helped dedicate a nuclear accelerator.

Marsland has never worked anywhere but Yale, and said he plans to stay here until retirement. To him, the University is a world unto itself, with endless photographic opportunities only minutes apart.

“It’s a universe with everything from art to science,” Marsland said, “and you can walk to all of it.”

Marsland said his favorite part of the job is being able to tell a narrative with his photos, trying to get the best results regardless of the situation. His challenge is to make every shot interesting, even if the picture is of a group of people sitting in an office. In these cases, Marsland said he finds himself “making something out of nothing.” Even commencement, which occurs year after year, always produces original images for Marsland.

He has since expanded to multimedia as well: he is currently working on a video series exploring Yale’s undergraduate art scene, and tomorrow he will venture behind the organ in Woolsey Hall.

But Marsland’s first responsibility remains the photographic documentation of life at Yale.

“Michael just makes very solid, very honest, well composed and well considered images,” Dagradi said. “He’s too well respected for people to try to ask him to step down. He’s doing too good of a job… There won’t be a new University Photographer until he’s ready to hand over the lens.”

Comments

  • dalet5770

    true story – Practicing for the states on 3 meter board, go up do my dive – do my dive go in the water when I came up the lights were out – the Northeast blackout of 1969 hit Wiki says it was 65. It made the cover of Life Magazine. I did pretty well at the states that year albeit one misstep went up to do my dive and froze. The flash bulbs must have triggered misstep.