Marten: Memorable Man, Unforgettable Pics

By July 25, 2012
Michael J. Marten poses with his camera in front of the steeples at the Saratoga race track.

Photographer Michael J. Marten photographed Thoroughbreds throughout the U.S. and around the world. (Photo by Joseph DiOrio / Winning Images)

As a man, he was as unforgettable as the images he created with his camera. Passionate, imaginative, highly technical and unfailingly original — all apply to the picture as well as to photographer Michael J. Marten, who this year died at age 54.

Joanne Nor and Michael J. Marten pose with his Eclipse Award.

Nor and Marten at the Eclipse Awards. (Photo by Joseph DiOrio / Winning Images)

A two-time Eclipse Award-winner for his work in Thoroughbred racing, Marten was a also a regular contributor to The Equestrian News, and had become a presence on the jumper circuit in Del Mar and San Juan Capistrano.

“He had a big heart, and was a really good human being,” said Joanne Nor, a Thoroughbred breeder based in Del Mar with whom Marten shared his life from 1996, when he moved to Southern California, until the time of his death on May 28.

The two met on the tarmac of JFK Airport in 1995 when Nor was waiting for her two ship-ins for the Breeders’ Cup at Belmont. “He was standing next to me, with these big horn-rimmed glasses and cameras hanging all over his body. I took one look and decided he was a serious photographer, so I asked him to document the trip, which would be the biggest race ever for my homebred filly, Desert Stormer.”

Grey Thoroughbred Creative Cause racing with colorful blue and green silks.

Creative Cause and Rafael Bejarano win the 2011 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar. (Photo by Michael J. Marten)

The filly won the 6 furlong $1 Million  G1 Sprint  (beating the boys in the days before the sexes were segregated) and Nor ran into Marten again that year when both he and Desert Stormer were nominated for Eclipse Awards, taking place at the Hotel Del Coronado. Marten won for his photo of the Travers Stakes winner Thunder Gulch exploding out of the gate at Saratoga (the filly came in second). His second Eclipse Award came in 1999, for an image of jockey Frankie Dettori doing his trademark “flying dismount” after winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Gulfstream Park.

Chestnut Thoroughbred Thunder Gulch explodes out of the starting gate at the Travers Cup.

This photo of Thunder Gulch at the Travers Cup earned Marten his second Eclipse Award. (Photo by Michael J. Marten)

“He really did his homework,” fellow racing photographer and longtime friend Joseph DiOrio said. “He was always on the phone with people, trying to find out what time a horse was going out, or scoping out locations to find a different angle. He came up with a lot of unusual shots, not the same boring win picture everyone else had.”

DiOrio said Marten would typically shoot an event with five cameras: three remotes positioned on the floor, and one in each hand. “Back in the day, he would cart these big crates of equipment around and set up a dark room so he could get his shots out minutes after the race. The guy worked hard.”

Beyond that, “He loved photography with all his heart,” DiOrio said. “For people who rise to the level of artist, it’s not about showing an image, it’s about capturing what you see, and Michael was like that. He was exceptional, and anything he shot was lucky to be at the other end of his lens.”

Marten was born in 1958 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His family moved to Rosedale, in  Queens, NY. He attended the Germaine School of Photography. His early career as a sports photographer centered on baseball and hockey, taking pictures for the NY Mets, the NY Rangers and the MSG Network. His image of Jeff Blatnick in a prayer-like pose after winning a 1984 Olympic gold medal appeared in Life Magazine. He was a regular contributor to The Daily Racing Form and

Jocke Frankie Dettori caught mid-air leaping from his horse after a win.

Marten's first Eclipse Award was for this classic shot of Frankie Dettori doing his "flying dismount" from Daylami. (Photo by Michael J. Marten)

Among his recent projects was a book chronicling the career of Southern California jumper-rider Tina DiLandri. “He followed me around for almost a year and shot some amazing pictures,” DiLandri said. “He was truly a talented man. I will cherish those pictures and memories forever.”

A celebration of Michael J. Marten’s life, including an exhibit of his work, will be held at the Del Mar Racetrack, Sunday, July 29, the day of the $300,000 Bing Crosby G1 Stakes,  12:30-2:30 p.m. in the Betty Grable Suite.


The following is a collection of Michael J. Marten shots that appeared in the print edition of The Equestrian News.

Josephina Nor soars over a bright pink jump on her great grey Cello Z.

Josehphina Nor and Cello Z at Blenheim. (Photo by Michael J. Marten)


Close-up of Lane Clarke jimping with Casseur de Prix

Lane Clarke and Casseur de Prix at Blenheim. (Photo by Michael J. Marten)



Del Mar Race Track at sunset

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club at sunset. (Photo by Michael J. Marten)



Dramatic silhouette of a jockey up at Del Mar.

At the Del Mar racetrack. (Photo by Michael J. Marten)



Chantal Sutherland's brown and pink silks perfectly complement her chestnut mount.

Chantal Sutherland, ready to race at Del Mar. (Photo by Michael J. Marten)

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