Matt Marriott’s energy filled a room. He had a large stature and a beard with its own zip code. But above all, he’s remembered for his sense of humor and talent, photographing above and below the sea.
Photographer, Alligator alumnus, Emmy-winning cinematographer and father Matt Marriott died suddenly on Oct. 27 at 46 years old.
Marriott had a unique gift behind the lens and photography was his lifelong passion, his brother Justin Marriott, 49, wrote in an email. He hopes that young photographers will use their camera to capture the beauty within life as his brother once did.
“The legacy of Matt will forever be remembered in his artistic endeavors that his family will always treasure,” he wrote.
Marriott attended UF in 2002, after serving four years in the Navy, and worked as the photo editor for The Independent Florida Alligator throughout his college career. He graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism in 2006 and went on to work at publications such as the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated, as well as amusement parks like SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.
He later formed Matt Marriott Photography in 2013, an independent photography business, and worked with clients like USA Today, Madame Tussauds and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
At home, Marriott was a father to his children, Mila and Van, and a godfather to his brother, Justin’s, kids. Marriott’s 8-year-old stepdaughter, Mila, doesn’t remember life before Marriott, said his partner, Alli Cox.
“From the second that they met, they were best pals,” Cox said.
Mila would schedule waffle and mini golf dates with him regularly, she said. Mila requested he tuck her in bed every night where they’d lay down and talk for hours, she said, asking questions and cracking inside jokes.
Raising Van, on the other hand, was new territory, Cox said. Despite the trials and tribulations, she only fell further in love with Marriott.
“The first time he ever strapped Van into a car seat by himself,” she said, “it was so wrong and it was so cute.”
The Florida Keys were his favorite place to go, Cox said, and he visited Tiger Beach in the Bahamas, known for its tiger sharks, twice a year spending a week at sea. On the water, Marriott photographed sea turtles nibbling on jelly fishes and schools of fish darting through coral. He cage dived with great whites and swam a finger’s length from hammerheads, sea turtles and dolphins.
Marriott was always a little eccentric and outrageous, Cox said, and took her to Disney on their first date. Throughout their relationship, Cox got certified to scuba dive, and over quarantine cooked and photographed 65 meals as the “Covid Cooking Couple.” From Kentucky Derby Pie to shrimp and alligator cheesecake, Cox said her favorite dish was lamb tagine, a lamb stew served in an earthenware pot.
“When I’m looking at videos of Matt, that’s the night that I remember,” she said.
With Marriott gone she has had good and bad days, but is taking it day by day.
“It'll be a struggle but the thing is I'm gonna keep going for Matt,” she said.
John Freeman, a UF journalism professor, had Marriott as a student in his classes in the early 2000s. He had a go getter spirit and eagerness to learn new techniques, Freeman said.
“I knew he didn't want to settle down and do small town photojournalism,” Freeman said. “He wanted something bigger out of life.”
Throughout his career, Mariott photographed whale sharks the size of school buses, chased restaurants on wheels for Food Network and stood in the sidelines capturing the excitement of March Madness every year for the NCAA.
Sarah Anderson, a 36-year-old UF Class of 2005 alumna, was an opinions editor at The Alligator while Marriott was a photo editor. She sat a desk away from him, in an office the size of a dining room secluded from the chaos of the newsroom, she said.
The now non-profit consultant vividly remembers Marriott’s Great Dane, Sadie, who would sprawl herself across the full length of the couch and follow him around the office like “two peas in a pod,” she said.
Anderson has followed Marriott’s work on social media and said he always stayed true to himself and let nothing stand in his way of getting a good picture. She felt a real loss for the Gator and photography community and is devastated to know he is no longer here.
“I always remember he had such a keen photographic eye,” she said. “And a fearlessness about going out and getting the right image to tell the story.”
As free trade Miami protestors were shot with rubber bullets and hosed with pepper spray in 2003, alligator alumni Nick West and Daron Dean were there in gas masks with Marriott capturing the moment. Through those experiences, West said, he made a friend for life.
“He's truly a captivating storyteller,” said West, a 39-year-old UF Class of 2005 alumnus. “I was fortunate to know somebody like that.”
Marriott worked as a photo ambassador for The Shark Conservation Fund from at least 2018 to 2020, a philanthropy organization aiming to reduce the overexploitation and extinction of sharks and rays. He spoke at grade schools and universities on the importance of protecting the world’s coral reefs and wildlife when he wasn’t underwater photographing them.
“I was blown away,” West said. “Either on land or underwater, he's very talented and he can pull amazing images.”
When Hurricane Irma rocked trees, kidnapped road signs and chucked roof tiles from St. Petersburg homes in 2017 Marriott and Dean, a UF journalism adjunct professor, drove through the littered streets for whatever they could capture. Dean was hoping to get photos to publish in Reuters, while Marriott tagged along for the adventure.
While driving, a cut power line slinged through Marriott’s window. It could’ve killed him, Dean, 41, said, but he dodged it and laughed it off.
That was Matt: If it was dangerous, he jumped to cover it, Dean said.
“Even if the story didn’t prove to be great or exciting, it was always worth it,” Dean said. “Because, we had a blast together.”
Marriott got to wake up everyday and do what he loved; he was a renaissance man in his eyes, Dean said. For the nearly two decades Dean has known Marriott, Dean said he felt like a brother to him.
“We always looked out for each other and watched each other’s back,” Dean said. “He was someone I was proud to be friends with.”