Keep Mozert in Marion

Posted at 11:41 pm on 04/03/2017

It is time for a Mozert Miracle

Bruce Mozert was our celebrity. His images tell our story. And his work should stay in Marion County.

In the summer of 2009, I needed a large-format camera — you know, one of those accordion-style beasts that crusty newspaper folks used when they wore rumpled suits with short ties.

I was in photo school at Daytona State College, and that semester was all about large-format photography. Problem was, I commuted and did not have access to the school’s stock room to rent the cameras. So I asked Bruce Mozert — THE Bruce Mozert — if he had any ideas. Bruce was a master of large- and medium-format photography. He was a certified celebrity of photography whose euphoric, funny underwater images of frolicking Floridians helped make Silver Springs an international destination.

I did not know Bruce very well at the time. I had interviewed him over the years, and his longtime assistant was a good friend. But when I called him seeking advice on renting a camera, he told me to come by his studio as soon as possible. I arrived to discover a cluttered wonderland. This studio housed breathtaking gems, from the depths of the springs to celebrity portraits to fascinating images of a county on the cusp of substantial growth. On one table was one of Bruce’s still photos from 1954′s “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Nearby were Bruce’s handmade underwater camera housings.

Bruce died in 2015, just shy of his 99th birthday. What a legacy he left. He created some of the most glorious, creative and important images produced in Marion County.

His work tells our story.

Two things here:

1. Bruce loaned me a camera for the semester. No questions asked. He insisted. I was beyond nervous; heaven only knows what that camera photographed. Esther Williams? Tinkerbell the cockatoo? Marlin Perkins? Paradise Park? The masterpiece “Alligators Playing Poker”? That image of Jayne Mansfield at Silver Springs that made her a star?

I returned the camera intact, grateful for his help and thrilled I had a famous friend.

2. Most importantly: Several locals are working fast to keep this collection in Marion County. Right now, there is a very real possibility the collection will be purchased by nonresidents and moved out of the area.

Heirs to the Mozert estate are in the final days of deciding the fate of this collection (photos, negatives, camera housings, movies — all of it). I do not know who they are, but I understand they have considered the local significance of keeping the collection here. My hope is they have considered this vital question: What would Bruce want?

Months ago, some community members (myself included) submitted the first bid, the goal being to raise the money and then donate the collection to the College of Central Florida. Other bids from out of town soon followed. Last week we were confident we could raise the money to secure the work. This week, however, we learned there is a much higher bid: $100,000-plus.

Full disclosure: I am very involved in this process. I am a longtime Ocalan and photographer. The goal is to keep this work in public view in our museums, galleries and schools. I and other community members are working to secure pledges and support, and there are MANY people and organizations who have stepped up. This community clearly adores Mozert’s work and does not want to see it leave.

But $100,000 is a very big number and, as of this writing, we are in Hail Mary mode.

I am not a fundraiser. I am completely out of my element here, but I am wise enough to surround myself with smarter people. Plus, I truly believe in this cause, this community and miracles. Bruce was our celebrity. His images tell our story. And I am sure Bruce would want his work to stay in Marion County.

If you are interested in helping, feel free to email a pledge to Marion Cultural Alliance at [email protected]. No checks are needed at this point, just solid pledges to be collected later if, indeed, there is a Mozert Miracle.

— Dave Schlenker can be reached at [email protected] and 867-4120.


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