Mark Harrison specialized in sports photography, producing evocative, live-action photographs, particularly of college athletics — most captured with a heavy, unwieldy 400-millimeter lens, which he managed with sheer strength and a rare dexterity.
No wise person ever stood between photojournalist Mark Harrison and the three things he cared about most: his family, the pursuit of a free-swimming salmon, or a poignant deadline photograph for the pages of the local newspaper.
Mr. Harrison, an award-winning Seattle Times photographer for nearly 30 years before his retirement in 2015, died Jan. 18 at his home near Snohomish after suffering a heart attack. He was 58.
A Midwest native who began his career at The Times in 1986, Mr. Harrison is remembered by colleagues as a passionate firebrand while pursuing his work, displaying a focused intensity that often hid the gentle soul, twinkling-eyed smile and ready sense of humor always lurking beneath.
He specialized in sports photography, producing evocative, live-action photographs, particularly of college athletics — most captured with a heavy, unwieldy 400-millimeter lens, which he managed with sheer strength and a rare dexterity.
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“Mark was a talented guy, no question,” said his longtime supervisor, former Times photo director Cole Porter. “If he got a nonsports assignment, he wasn’t always happy. But he approached everything with tremendous tenacity. Nobody or nothing was going to stop him.”
Working on one of the top sports-photography staffs in the country throughout much of his career, “there was a lot of competition here,” Porter recalled. “He met that head on. He thought he was the best, and his ideas were the best. And some of the time they were.”
He balanced that competitive nature with a love of nature itself. Mr. Harrison’s passion for the outdoors shone in his often-poetic images of local rivers and wildlife, and of the day’s first light on Puget Sound, where he was a fisherman with few peers.
Never hesitant to drive hundreds of miles through the night to claim a predawn riverbank spot, or to launch his boat before competitors, Mr. Harrison lived to fish. He was that one-in-a-thousand angler who could instinctively make river-fishing tackle drift perfectly through a hole, or manipulate a cut-plug herring bait to roll at precisely the right speed while saltwater trolling, often enticing fish when others failed.
One longtime fishing companion, Dean Desilet, remembered Mr. Harrison’s patience as an angling teacher — and his uncanny ability to will a fish onto his line. “Trip after trip after trip he would hook four or five fish to every one of mine while we were 6 feet apart doing the exact same thing,” Desilet said. “I can only remember two days when I outfished him.”
Decades of success at this never rendered it routine: Mr. Harrison was incapable of hiding a childlike glee upon landing a prized chinook, steelhead or lingcod, or even a Dungeness crab or Lake Stevens Kokanee salmon — especially when the experience was shared with friends or newcomers to the craft.
He generously shared his catches and his locally famous smoked-salmon brine recipe; he was a bit more selfish about his secret cure for fresh bait. He was an ardent conservationist who argued passionately for improved fish and wildlife habitat, and occasionally was seen standing in the cold, rushing waters of local rivers with a fishing rod in one hand and camera in the other.
“Mark was a one of a kind — the only other person I know that fished as much as I do,” said another fishing friend, Dan Hendricks, of Snohomish. “His passion for the sport was second only to his family.”
Born Mark Allen Harrison on June 25, 1960, in Iowa City, Iowa, Mr. Harrison was the son of T. Jean Harrison and Bruce A. Harrison, who lived in Iowa, Florida, Ohio, Connecticut and Wisconsin before settling in Luverne, Minnesota. Mr. Harrison’s parents published and edited the weekly Luverne (now Rock County) Star Herald, where their son, as a teenager, learned all aspects of print newspaper production, taking a special liking to photography.
“Mark had remarkable news judgment and could home in on the key points of a news story like few people I’ve worked with,” said Fred Nelson, a longtime Seattle Times photo editor. “You could tell he grew up in the news business.”
As a young teenager, an assignment took Mr. Harrison to the local Rock County Fair to photograph prize winners. There, he met future high-school classmate Brenda Mann, who would become his wife on Aug. 16, 1980, at Rock Rapids, Iowa.
“He had a camera around his neck the first time we met,” Brenda Harrison recalled. “It might have been love at first sight, but we didn’t get serious until high school — in German class.”
At age 18, he was invited to a White House ceremony to photograph President Jimmy Carter when his mother, the paper’s editor, was recognized with a national newspaper award. His family recalled that he was assigned a personal escort from the Secret Service because he kept roaming about the White House.
Mr. Harrison, mentored early in his career by noted photographer (and Luverne native) Jim Brandenburg, was a 1978 graduate of Luverne High School; a journalism student at St. Cloud (Minnesota) University; and a graduate of the University of Missouri in 1984, the same year he was awarded a prestigious Hearst Journalism Award for college photography.
He took his photographic skills to the Kansas City Times, the Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune and The Herald of Everett before signing on with The Seattle Times in 1986. The Harrisons initially moved to Puget Sound in his parents’ RV. On their first night here, they lured a Dungeness crab into a pot below a public pier in Everett — a dinner that confirmed their choice of locales. They later settled into a century-old farmhouse outside Snohomish.
Mr. Harrison retired in June 2015 to travel and spend more time with his wife and two daughters and, recently, a granddaughter, with whom he was smitten. In his retirement, Mr. Harrison also enjoyed crabbing, cooking, mushroom hunting in local forests, gardening (particularly dahlias and tomatoes) and investigating the finest local craft beers.
He was a member of Beach Watchers of Snohomish County, and a volunteer at the Snohomish Food Bank.
He is survived by a his wife, Brenda, of Snohomish; daughters Elizabeth Harrison DeVivi, of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Leah Naccarato, of Federal Way; granddaughter, Eleanor Naccarato; and a sister, Diane Harrison Ogawa, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
A memorial gathering will be from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at Legion Hall, 145 Alverson Blvd., in Everett.
Memorials can be made to the Mark Allen Harrison Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation of Snohomish County, 2823 Rockefeller Ave., Everett, WA 98201.