Bruce Mozert's iconic underwater photography captured the days before Disney and Universal Studios, when Silver Springs was Florida's hot-spot tourist destination.
OCALA — Bruce Mozert, the pioneer of underwater photography, was known more for his stunning pictures than his organization skills.
Mozert, 98, died in October 2015 and left behind a treasure trove of history in his photography studio near Silver Springs State Park.
Inside the studio, there were about a dozen of his original underwater camera housings that he used to snap his first underwater photos in Silver Springs in the 1930s.
Hundreds of decades-old prints depicting movie stars and movie sets were found stacked throughout the studio. Thousands of negatives, some from nearly 90 years ago, were found stuffed in drawers and sometimes mixed with personal vacation images.
The collection captures the days before Disney and Universal Studios, when Silver Springs was "the" tourist attraction in Florida.
Despite his iconic connection to Marion County, it was uncertain if his collection would remain here. Soon after Mozert's death, his relatives shopped the collection around, trying to find a buyer.
A local group of concerned citizens began meeting with elected officials and others to fight for the collection. Now, after more than a year of negotiations, Marion County government and the College of Central Florida have teamed with the state Division of Library and Information Services to purchase the collection from Mozert's family for $85,000.
Lois Brauckmuller, CF spokeswoman, said the state paid $42,500 to the family and guaranteed that all of his negatives would be digitally archived. The county and the college each paid $21,250 and can access the digital archive to make prints. The equipment will be stored in Tallahassee and displayed when needed.
Michelle Stone, chair of the Marion County Commission, said preserving the collection was an important mission. Stone said that it was important for the community to keep the collection together.
Stone said the state will digitally archive the photos for anyone to view. The county and CF will have access to print copies.
"He was the first underwater photographer and his work was right here in Marion County," Stone noted. "We didn't want it sold off and split up all over the world."
CF President Jim Henningsen said the Appleton Museum of Art, which is operated by CF, will one day soon showcase Mozert's camera housings and 20 or so of his iconic photos that were hand colored and autographed by the legend. The exhibit has not been scheduled.
"We are fortunate the family decided to sell so that it (collection) could be preserved for our community," Henningsen said.
Since the acquisition of the Mozert collection, Marion County government will be the first to display some of his work. The agency decided to display six of Mozert's framed iconic photographs during Marion County's 175th anniversary celebration, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the McPherson Governmental Complex, 601 NE 25th Ave., Ocala.
Nick Zoller, a Marion County spokesman, said the six framed photographs will be on display at the Marion County tourism booth.
The subjects of Mozert's framed pictures are:Lady sunning on the grassy banks of Silver Springs with a passing glass-bottom boat Aerial view of the swimming platform with glass-bottom boats in the background Lady underwater laying on the sand using a rotary phone Two ladies underwater holding a "Greetings from Silver Springs" sign Lady playing golf underwater from the "9th hole water trap" A diver using the underwater camera and housing to capture images.
Mozert spent 30 years as Silver Springs' official photographer. He designed and built an underwater camera housing in the 1930s when "Tarzan" movies were being filmed at the park. He made a camera housing from Plexiglas, sheet metal and soldering wire. It was pieced together using a few nails and screws.
During an interview with the Star-Banner in 2013, two years before his death, Mozert shared the story of the day he first explored the concept of underwater photography.
"I saw that crystal clear water and that's how I got into my underwater work," Mozert said. "I went out in the backyard of Silver Springs one morning after I had made the camera case and I found an old inner tube. That was back when they were made out of real rubber. I fitted it on my arm and my arm fit tight. I attached it to the housing and took it down in the water. ("Tarzan" star) Johnny Weissmuller was there. They all laughed at me, but all 12 pictures came out clear. They ended up sending them to Hollywood."
During Mozert's career at Silver Springs, he shot photos of such notables as Gregory Peck, Lloyd Bridges and Jane Wyman.
"The photos I shot of Jayne Mansfield went worldwide," Mozert said in 2013. "She was nobody until she came to Silver Springs, and boy did she play up the photography."
And the legend of Bruce Mozert was born.
In 2016, a year after his death, the Appleton showcased more than 100 iconic images, many of which were Mozert's.
The exhibit was called "Paradise Park Remembered: Photographs by Bruce Mozert and Others." For 20 years until 1969, Mozert photographed visitors of Paradise Park, which was the African-American version of Silver Springs before integration.
This story originally published to ocala.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network.