By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Dec. 16 — When it comes to her clients, Marlise Lee simply wants to “take beautiful photos and get them on their wall.” The 20-year professional photographer knows the impact of images and hopes to create a few special memories for new clients in her new home.
Since refining her photography skills and techniques at the University of Colorado, Lee has traveled from Peace Corps service in Bolivia to becoming the in-house photographer at the five-star St. Regis Bahia Beach resort in Puerto Rico. Her most recent move this summer brought her from Kodiak, Alaska to Luray, Virginia.
“I was so excited that Luray was a destination location,” Lee said. “In Luray, people come to stay in cabins and come for weddings…I can take some pictures of your family in this beautiful location while you’re here.”
Local officials and friends gathered last Friday to officially cut the ribbon on Cameo Fine Arts & Photography, which Lee runs out of her home on East Main Street. She has used her talents to photograph events, weddings, lifestyle portraits, resorts, real estate, food and fine art.
Lee and her husband John searched up and down the Shenandoah Valley, from Lexington to Winchester, for a place to live while he pursued a doctorate program in psychology research at James Madison University. They settled on Luray because of its “sense of community” and the availability of a home they wanted in a tight real estate market.
Within a matter of weeks of moving to Luray, Marlise had a “small world” moment when Robert Kotlarek pulled up in his car as she was getting ice cream with the kids downtown. Robert has lived in Luray for eight years, but until the last three, he had been “on the road” most of the time for various archeological digs. Marlise worked with Robert on an archeological team during an internship in the Virgin Islands.
“I have other archeology friends thinking of moving here,” Robert mused last Friday. “Luray seems to be a nexus for former archeologists.”
Marlise now focuses on raising her two boys and her photography — in that order. She enjoys the small town feeling in Luray, as well as the moderate weather. She recalls an early morning in September 2017, when she and her family had to quickly evacuate Puerto Rico just ahead of Hurricane Maria. The storm flattened the island with winds exceeding 200 mph. John, who was serving in the Coast Guard Reserves at the time, was deployed to St. John to wait out the storm. He soon transferred with his family from Puerto Rico to Kodiak.
“The islands were about the same size, but very different,” John said with a grin.
The young couple loves their new home in the Valley, where there are no earthquakes or tsunamis — and they love Luray, where the arts are promoted and the downtown is growing.
“Thank you for investing here and moving here,” Gina Hilliard, president of the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce, said during the Dec. 10 ribbon cutting. “Thanks for making Luray your home and bringing a photography business right here to Main Street.”
A portion of the former barber shop has had a few upgrades and now serves as a photography studio by appointment. Lee also offers oil paintings for sale on her website and has some on display in her studio, which had a “soft opening” in October. She hopes to partner with local businesses and potentially trade referrals for photography services.
“We’ve had a wonderful welcome here in Luray,” Lee said at the ribbon cutting. “This is a great place to open a business, raise your kids and call home.”