The Outdoor Renaissance Man

Mark Emery: From Brownie Camera to Winning Emmys

By BUDDY MARTIN/Best Version Media Editor

At first glance, Mark Emery sounds flat-out crazy.

Emery is a bit of a renaissance man – a onetime professional kick boxer who plays guitar and writes music; a producer/photographer who makes movies and writes his own scores.

You also might find the strapping 6-foot-4 Floridian swimming down the Silver River in scuba gear with members of a Special Forces team in training, hitching a ride on the tail of a gator. Or helicoptering to a beach in Alaska to photograph a pack of grizzly bears feasting on a whale’s carcass. Or sticking his head inside of an alligator den. Or perhaps hanging upside down in a small aircraft, which had crashed into a tree at some remote spot in Alaska – one of many predicaments he has managed to escape.

In his last assignment, Mark found himself swimming upside down just 18 inches underneath a rattlesnake with fangs visible.

Most outdoor-loving Huck Finns prey on grasshoppers or caterpillars or frogs, or maybe a grass snake or two. From the start, however, Mark Emery had his eye on bigger game.

At 14, Emery and his friends were trapping alligators around Central Florida, putting them to sleep by rubbing their tummies. He and his buddies captured a seven-footer in a retention pond, promptly putting the critter into a comatose state. Back then alligators were protected by law. When Mark’s dad discovered the reptile in a coma, he feared they had killed it.

“In those days it was about a thousand-dollar fine for killing one,” said Emery. “I think my dad probably made about $95 a week. So I got my butt whipped. Once daddy realized we hadn’t killed the gator, however, he took us out for ice cream. First and only time I got a whipping followed by ice cream.”

It turned out Mark’s love for animals wasn’t just a boy’s passing fancy. He started with a Brownie camera, exploring creeks and rivers and forests at his back door in Ocala. He’s been tracking critters ever since – sharks and all kinds of fish, wild boar, alligators, deer, bears, etc. Not always to trap them, or kill them, but to shoot video and still photos of these magnificent creatures.

Working his way up as assistant at the Ross Allen Reptile Institute, he learned how to milk poisonous snakes. There he met pioneer film photographer Jordy Klein and began learning the trade.

Over the past few decades, Mark has spent countless hours in the water and the wilderness, studying the animals’ habits, building a bridge of trust that allowed passage into their world. That understanding of territorial imperative has provided a window of photographic splendor to nature which, coupled with Emery’s genius, has led to international renown and a pair of Emmys.

These days he plunders the wilds of Alaska and various other far away places, documenting animal behavior for The Discovery Channel and National Geographic. Those tasks can be daunting.

The stories of his wildlife adventures would have made a reality series itself, but it takes a toll. Never mind the plane crashes in Alaska or getting whacked by the tail of a crocodile. Just the task of trudging up mountains or through wild country with his team, hauling thousands of pounds of equipment is a massive undertaking.

“I am working out all the time just to keep up with these younger guys,” said Emery, 59, although still fit and trim and energetic.

While fearless, Emery knows the pace must eventually slow just a little over time. And as he does, he and his wife/business partner Mary hope to be around Ocala more, turning more toward teaching other young aspiring artists and photographers. So they have begun offering specialized education, including rivers tours for students from Silver Springs. His dream is have a film school there one day.

Come this May, the Emerys will once again pack for Alaska. Mark does some fly fishing guided tours and Mary works at the local salmon fishery. Like the creatures of the wild, they migrate there every year for four months. After all, they, too, are creatures of habit that just have to migrate.

(Email Buddy Martin at


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March 1, 2014 · 8:51 pm

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