They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, Oh yeah
By Randall Grantham
Friends of mine in such high-falutin’ places as New York City and California have told me of occasions when they were out and about in their neighborhood, walking the dog or going for a cup of coffee, when they noticed a person they seemed to recognize.
Usually that person was trying a little too hard not to be noticed, ala Michael Jackson, when my friend realized that they were in the presence of a celebrity. Someone whose pictures are worth real money to tabloid newspapers! Well, here in Lutz and Pasco County, we have our share of celebrities too, even if their portraits may not be hot commodities.
I wrote a few weeks ago of SCUBA legend and spear-fishing innovator Ray Odor. You wouldn’t recognize him walking down the street. But at least one person recognized the man as an old friend whom he had been wanting to get in touch with and called me for contact info. I thought the name sounded familiar and I knew I had to investigate further.
Photographs of 83-year-old Burton McNeely probably wouldn’t fetch much, but photos by the man do sell well, and have for decades. He has shot for nearly every major magazine in the country, including Life, National Geographic and Sports Illustrated.
McNeely and Ray started diving together in the ’40s. While Ray ended up in the provisioning side of the sport, Burton got into photography and that allowed him to spin off in a direction he could make money in.
McNeely has witnessed and documented many historic events. He covered the last Grand Prix race in Havana pre-Castro and was back there among the only Americans at the first Cuban Boat Exodus after Castro with Key West’s Captain Tony as a Life magazine crew. He was an originating photographer for what became Getty Images, a stock photography source for news and stories from around the world.
And he lives in Land O’ Lakes. Built his little A-frame on Lake Dupree more than 41 years ago when “Pasco County didn’t even know how many houses they had.” He cleared an area in the middle of a swamp, had a septic put in, called the electric company for a power pole and started building, little-by-little, between international photo shoots. He didn’t need know stinking permits!
In addition to traditional photography and film for magazines, television and commercial advertisers, Burton invented, perfected and hand-built a plexiglass underwater camera housing for medium and large format cameras that he still uses to this day.
It allows the photographer to control the camera without losing sight of the image to perfectly capture the shot, without distortion, from both above and below the waterline — at the same time, no less.
He is quite well-known for his dramatic fishing photography — and for good reason. His images are striking! One from half-submerged in the Rainbow River’s gin-clear water, freezes a Florida panther on a log over the water while showing a 12-pound largemouth bass in the foreground beneath the surface.
In1968-69, Kodak enlisted McNeely to prepare the first underwater scene to be displayed on the 16-by-80 foot Colorama featured then in Grand Central Station. He shot the race riots in 1960s Birmingham, hung out with Jayne Mansfield in Silver Springs before she was famous, and was friends with Wernher Von Braun, whom he took diving right here in Tampa Bay during the middle of the space race.
He’s famous! And he’s one of us, doing what he loves — photography and scuba diving.
You can see his work at exhibitions or shows, occasionally. You can also see his catalog, order prints of his or get custom and personal work done by Tana Brackens at Beck Gallery here in Land O’ Lakes.
Or you can select your favorites and have them put on your own personalized T-shirts, hats, cards, coffee mugs and more. Go to www.zazzle.com/burtonmcneely to view the gallery. And remember, they make great presents for that sportsman in your family. Hint, hint…
Randall C. Grantham is a lifelong resident of Lutz who practices law from his offices on Dale Mabry Highway. He can be reached at . Copyright 2010 RCG. To comment on this or anything else, e-mail the editor at and for past columns go to lakerlutznews.com.
Janice Travia says
Nice article. I am fortunate enough to be close friends with this legend for over 30 years! I’ve been trying to put some of his magazine/book/etc. covers onto to a DVD for safe keeping. There are SO many, unfortunately I will never get them ALL! Burton is a very giving person, and has helped many grow or build a career because of his advice and input. I gave him a surprise birthday party for his 75th birthday and people came out of the woodwork and drove miles to be there for him!! It was an awesome event, and a great surprise for this very understated man/legend.
I am honored to call him my friend.
" class="comment-author-link" rel="external nofollow" itemprop="url">Elaine Weiner says
Thank you for this wonderful article about Burton McNeely-
we have been friends since the 1960’s
Kathy Davidson says
He taught me how to live. I was just 18…. his words are etched on my heart.
Judy Travis says
Burton was a wonderful man. anyone who ever spent any time with him was very fortunate. Burton touched every ones hearts he ever met. You will be missed and remembered throughout all time.
June 10 2020
Ron Ribaudo says
Burton Did a number of photo shoots for my clients when I had my ad agency, and we did lots of great above and underwater shots.
He was always great, considerate and out of the way helpful.
I am pleased to call him a friend and great photographer!
Not sure if this is the Burton McNeely I knew, who lived in Land O’ Lakes back in the day around 1969-1970. The man I knew was a Photographer…his wife went by the name of Bunny…Is he still living?
Burton passed away in 2020, sadly. That was his wife. Let me know if you have any questions and I can try to answer them for you. -Travis
I knew him back in the late 60s and early 70s when I was a staff photographer for the Tampa Tribune and we were both members of the Florida West Coast Press Photographer’s Association. I remember when he first perfected the underwater housing as well as a lens that could take a photo at the waterline – half above and half below the surface – with no distortion. And also remember when he showed us some of the shoot for the Kodak display at Grand Central Station. Also remember his wife Bunny. She was a warm and beautiful woman. She also did a lot of nude work with him – made some great underwater shoots. HAve always wondered what happened to him – surprised he died so recently.