Lee Howard Marmon was born as the second son of Lily and Henry "Hank" Marmon on September 25, 1925 in Laguna, New Mexico. Marmon's interest in photography was sparked when he took his first photograph at the age of 11 of an automobile accident on Route 66. Initially planning to attend the University of New Mexico to study geology, Marmon dropped out after several semesters to begin his World War II career as a Sergeant-Major on Shemya Island, Alaska in 1943. Marmon's service to the United States in the Aleutian chain lasted until 1946, after which he returned to Laguna.
Marmon retained an interest in photography and purchased his first professional camera, a 2¼ x 2¾ Speed Graphic. Later in his career, he would use a 4x5 Speed Graphic, a Rolleiflex, a Hasselblad Superwide, and a Hasselblad C model. When Marmon began photographing, he favored Kodachrome sheet film (ASA 8) and super speed B&W (ASA 100). As Marmon was learning this new hobby, his civilian life included employment as the Laguna postmaster and as a worker in his father's store, The Laguna Trading Post. Photography escalated from a hobby to a more serious pursuit after Marmon's father suggested that his son bring a camera along while making store deliveries in order to take portraits of the Laguna elders. These early black and white photographs, taken using fixed-lens cameras and natural light, became some of Marmon's most well-known images.
While Marmon mainly focused on documenting the traditions and lifestyles of the Laguna and Acoma Pueblos, a departure from this theme occurred when he moved from New Mexico to Palm Springs, California in 1966. As the official photographer for the Bob Hope Desert Classic Golf Tournament from 1967 until 1973, Marmon took publicity photographs of golfers participating in the competition along with celebrity entertainers and guests at the accompanying Bob Hope Ball. Marmon also worked as a freelance photographer throughout this time, contributing to publications such as Time Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post, working as a still photographer for Columbia Pictures, and completing a commission from President and Mrs. Nixon to photograph a collection of New Mexican Puebloan pottery.
Marmon moved back to Laguna in 1982, and in the following years he showed his work in a variety of venues, opened a bookstore called The Blue-Eyed Indian, and won an ADDY award for his contribution to the PBS documentary series, Surviving Columbus: The Story of the Pueblo People. In 2003, Marmon published a book, The Pueblo Imagination: Landscape and Memory in the Photography of Lee Marmon, in collaboration with his daughter, author Leslie Marmon Silko, and poets Joy Harjo and Simon Ortiz. The book was heralded as a success, collecting first place awards from The Mountains and Plains Bookseller's Association and from Independent Publisher Online.
After the publication of his book, Marmon's photographic activity began to diminish. His final show, Pueblo Faces and Places, was held in 2007 at the Sky City Cultural Center in Acoma, New Mexico. In recognition for achievements in the photographic field, Marmon was honored as the 88th Annual Inter-Tribal Ceremonial's "Living Treasure" of 2009, the first photographer to be given the award. Throughout his life, Marmon produced a great volume of work. In May of 2009, he donated his personal papers and over 65,000 photographs to the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections (CSWR) at the University of New Mexico. From a humble beginning of taking photographs of village elders, Marmon eventually built a career out of saving the memories of the Laguna and Acoma tribes and is now one of the country's best-known Native American photographers.