Bruce Mozert: Pioneer of Underwater American Glamour

Most people follow prescribed paths, trusting that life will be fulfilling. Sometimes an enterprising spirit and persistence have more success.

Born Robert Bruce Moser in Newark, Ohio in 1916, Bruce Mozert’s first job out of high school was that of a truck driver carrying coal to the northeast. Declaring himself “too sensitive” for that line of work, he soon moved to New York City to live with his sister, successful pin-up model and illustrator Zoë Mozert. She introduced him to Victor de Palma, a lead photographer for Life magazine, who recognized his enterprising spirit, hired him as a film developer and helped him get started in photography.

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Johnny Weissmuller’s iconic Tarzan call

In 1938, Bruce was on assignment in Florida when he heard that Johnny Weissmuller was filming Tarzan in Silver Springs. The Florida Chamber of Commerce asked if he would visit the set and take some publicity photos. He jumped at the chance. At the time, underwater photos and film were taken from a inside a submerged barrel fitted with a glass window. This meant that there was only room for the film crew’s cameraman. Frustrated at not being able to shoot underwater, Bruce constructed the first known waterproof camera housing on the spot from scrap sheet metal and plexiglas, with a couple of nails for a viewfinder. His father and grandfather had been inventors. Bruce had been tinkering with machinery since he was a boy. As he would do over and over again in his life, he saw something he wanted to do and created the technology to do it.

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.”Ocala Star Banner, 2013

This was long before the Go Pro, folks. The photos were so good that MGM paid Bruce Mozert to use them in their promotions of Tarzan. He was encouraged to patent his invention, which allowed a photographer to get much closer to his subjects and make much better pictures, but he couldn’t afford the $900 it would have cost to do so.

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Bruce Mozert with one of his later homemade camera housings

In the midst of this, Bruce fell in love with Silver Springs, famous for crystal clear lakes, streams and artesian springs. He was to be the official photographer of Silver Springs for four and half decades, excepting for a few years in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Never a snob, Bruce even ran a concession business in the park, taking photos of patrons. His staged publicity photos were sent out across the country as advertisements for what was, at the time, the premiere tourist destination in Florida. These shots required planning and direction, and Bruce’s imagination and work ethic were ideal for the task. Most consisted of glamorous young women– and the occasional brawny male– doing everyday things underwater.

Images © Bruce Mozert

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© Bruce Mozert

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© Bruce Mozert: The “smoke” is condensed milk, rising from a punctured can.

Mozert’s work is lovely and good natured, with just a dash of whimsy. Much of it, while delightfully kitschy, seems a little dated, meant as advertising and filled with pin-up models and a 1950s sense of glamour (and sexism), but some pieces, especially the work he did with model Ginger Stanley, who was a stunt double for Creature from the Black Lagoon, have an artistic quality and clarity that remains arresting, even when compared with photography done on modern equipment.

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Ginger Stanley in Underwater Ballet: Bruce Mozert/Three Lions/Getty Images

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Ginger Stanley in Underwater Ballet: Bruce Mozert/Three Lions/Getty Images

Bruce would remain a pioneer and innovator in the field for many years, creating new camera housings, high speed underwater cameras, and lighting devices. Television networks and film companies required his expertise and hired him for underwater projects as a photographer, a film cameraman and consultant. Gregory Peck, Lloyd Bridges, Jane Russell and Esther Williams were just a few of the celebrities with which he worked. His images graced the covers and pages of magazines such as LifeLook and National Geographic. Another passion he enjoyed was aerial photography, which he picked up while in the Air Corps. He was known to take a plane up for shooting when he was in his nineties.

Bruce Mozert passed away last October at the ripe old age of 98. He worked in his studio, digitizing old film, until near the end. His is a truly inspiring American success story.

 

Want to read more about underwater photography? You can read our introduction to the subject here. We’ll have more on the subject later this week.

Half Buried in the Sand: Remembering Kolmanskop

Humans react profoundly to images of places, natural or man-made. Why are we moved by locations we have never visited?

From the mystical glow of the Aurora Borealis to the crumbling majesty of the Egyptian pyramids, places make a deep impression on us. We may have no ancestry there, we may never have walked there, but the image of such regions raises a lump in the throat. We wax romantic imagining what it would be like to occupy time and space there. In fact, sometimes a visit to such a place is a let down, as it is difficult for reality to measure up to the glowing imagination of the human mind.

Many of these places are famous, and justly so. But, occasionally, we are struck by an unfamiliar image that stirs us just as deeply. I was watching the 2011 movie Samsara, which I wholeheartedly recommend, when I was blindsided by images of houses invaded by the desert, filled knee deep with sand. There are so many profound images in Samsara, but this one haunted me desperately. I had to know its name.

I am fond of the desert, having traveled quite a bit in the American Southwest, especially Utah. It has been said that all deserts are one in the imagination, and I think that is essentially true. Love for one desert translates quite easily into love for another. It’s a harsh environment and one that requires respect to ensure survival. If we could drop the CEOs of large corporations into such places for a few days without outside aid, I think we would have a revolution in the way we treat the earth. Life in the desert is too fragile to waste, resources too valuable.

Kolmanskop, or Coleman’s Hill in Afrikaans, is an abandoned mining village in the Namib desert of southern Namibia, just 10 kilometers, 6.2 miles, from the port city Lüderitz. It was named for Johnny Coleman, a transport driver who found himself marooned in a fearful sandstorm and abandoned his ox wagon here.

In 1908, a railway worker by the name of Zacharias Lewala found a shiny rock resting on the sand and showed it to his supervisor, the German railway inspector August Stauch. The shiny stone turned out to be a diamond. German miners flocked to the area and a large portion of desert was declared Sperrgebietor prohibited area. The famed mining company DeBeers, who ran the mines in the area, had strict rules, one of which was that equipment or vehicles that entered their facilities were never allowed to leave. Most of this area is still off limits to the public, with the exception of a National Park centered in Kolmanskop and run by Namib-DeBeers. The fame of the Sperrgebiet is legendary. It is rumored that some miners would slide across the sand on their bellies, picking up dozens of diamonds as they slithered about.

In its day, Kolmanskop was incredibly wealthy and  the residents used their money to recreate a German village in the savage African desert. For entertainment, there was a ballroom, theater, sport hall, bowling alley and casino. The tiny town possessed its own power station, school, ice factory and hospital. It was the location of the first x-ray station in the southern hemisphere and the first tram in Africa. Despite its glory, purchased with resources purloined from the earth and from local people who saw little benefit, the life of Kolmanskop was brief. After World War I the diamonds began to peter out and it was too expensive to keep things going here. Kolmanskop was empty by 1954. The ghost town has been reclaimed by the desert, sandstorms invading the structures and creating an eerie scene.

 

 

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Public Domain Image via Pixabay

 

One is reminded of Shelley’s masterpiece, “Ozymandias”. The final lines of that peerless poem read,

“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
There is something powerful about things buried in the desert, mummified, arrested and yet not rotting. In a more humid climate, they would be assimilated back into the soil, but here they remain preserved, a warning and a reminder to the human race. Although we think ourselves important, we too will die and become a riddle to the future.

 

What will we leave behind?
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Kolmanskop: Image via Pixabay

 

 

 

Reinventing Ninfa: Il Giardino di Ninfa, Part 2

The 17th century saw the death of ancient Ninfa, once sacred to water nymphs. Has she returned to those roots?

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Ruins of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Image via TripAdvisor

Earlier this week, we spoke of the tumultuous history of the Italian city of Ninfa. You can read that post here. She began as an agricultural community crowned by a temple dedicated to water nymphs and grew into an influential city on an important trade route near Rome. Becoming rich off of tolls and trade, she  found herself embroiled in Papal politics, was sacked and burned, strangled by war, then at last fell victim to the power of the very water that made her rise possible. Flooding and malaria had the final word, or so it seemed.

The Caetani family, stewards and power brokers of Ninfa since 1298, held onto the property, but disease and violence had left a stain that had ruined the town’s reputation. It was not until 1921 that Gelasio Caetani began to realize his ancestor’s dream of making a garden here. He restored some of the old buildings, creating a summer residence. His mother, Lady Constance Adela Bootle-Wilbraham, or Ada for short, was the daughter of the Fourth Earl of Clarendon, having married Onorato Caetani, the Duke of Sermoneta, one of the (comparatively) new towns that had sprung up near the ruins of Ninfa. She had already created an English style garden at nearby Lake Fogliani. Ada helped her son plan a new garden at Ninfa, which he filled with water loving plants from his travels abroad.

The extreme humidity of the region, where it rains almost every afternoon, supports a surprising number of foreign species, including American Walnuts, yuccas, cedars, cherry trees, Himalayan and Mexican Pines, magnolia, tulip trees and bamboo. There are a huge variety of roses, both climbing and bush varieties, as well as wisteria, hydrangea, clematis and many other flowering plants and trees.

 

The park and gardens provide a sharp and welcome contrast to the industrialized areas near Rome. The World Wildlife Fund has set aside a few acres of the garden as a wildlife sanctuary, since the river Ninfa and its many springs lie along a busy migration route for birds between Europe and Africa. Teals, mallards, herons and raptors add to the romance of the place. The river and lake also support a large number of trout.

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Image © Stefano Manfredini, Fondazione Roffredo Caetani 

Painter Lelia Caetani and her husband, Hubert Howard, were the last owners here. They created the Roffredo Caetani Foundation , dedicated to the memory of her father, a noted composer, to manage Il Giardino de Ninfa and other Caetani family sites in the area. Under the guidance of the Foundation, the garden is open for guided tours on a set schedule. Wandering without a guide is prohibited.

We wouldn’t want to offend the water nymphs, would we?

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Ninfa_05Images © Fondazione Roffredo Caetani 

 

All images used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for educational use.

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Garden: Il Giardino di Ninfa, Part 1

Forty miles from Rome, the ancient city of Ninfa has been overtaken by a lush garden. What stories hide here?

In the Latina province of the Lazio region of central Italy there lies a garden. No ordinary garden, but a place considered by connoisseurs to be one of the most romantic in the world. Twenty acres of landscaped beauty comprises Il Giardino di Ninfa, part of a larger Italian Natural Monument, Il Parco Naturale Pantanello. Ancient and medieval ruins are embroidered with greenery and roses make tenacious toeholds between crumbling stones weathered by centuries. Grassy meadows give way to stands of oak, cypress and poplar, while plants imported from all over the globe take advantage of an abundance of water. Beneath all of this extreme beauty, there is the story of Ninfa, a community lost and regained several times over the course of history.

Ninfa means Nymph and the original settlement (as well as the river) was named for a nymphaeum, or temple dedicated to nymphs, that once stood on a island in the small lake. The earliest known reference to this structure is found in the letters of Pliny the Younger (AD 61-113), a famous Roman lawyer, magistrate and writer. Pliny was a survivor of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, which took the life of his uncle, Pliny the Elder. He tells us the temple was dedicated to water nymphs;  water is key to Ninfa’s identity and value. Early residents knew it was wise to keep the nymphs happy, as floods and waterborne illnesses were unpredictable and could quickly overwhelm a community.

Those first residents were probably the Volsci, who were driven from the Liris river Valley in the northeast to the marshy regions near Rome after 600 BC. These were water people who worshiped water gods and made their living from fertile soil watered by so many rivers and streams. They were also, at times, fierce enemies of the Romans. In 304 BC, they were defeated for good and subsequently assimilated. Famous Romans of Volscian descent included Cicero and Caesar Augustus himself.

Over centuries, Ninfa grew from a prosperous agricultural community into a more worldly town, benefiting from its location on the Via Pedemontana near Rome. This was the high road at the feet of the mountains, which proved useful whenever the marshes flooded. The Appian Way was also nearby. It should have allowed local farmers to sell their produce far to the south and brought in other merchants and artisans, but it was prone to flooding. Ninfa was situated along the most important detour in central Italy and became rich off of tolls and customs trade.

By AD 1159, Ninfa was important enough that Pope Alexander III was crowned here in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, following a disputed election that would have repercussions throughout Europe and result in decades of violence. This association with Papal politics proved deadly. A dozen years later, Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor, would burn the city, in an attempt to flush out Pope Alexander, who was hiding here. Ninfa had the resources to rebuild- this time, thanks to the Caetani family with their money and Papal connections.

At her height, she was  a cluster of more than 150 homes, with churches, mills, two hospitals, a castle (built near the lake where the nymphaeum had once stood) and a town hall. Recognizing what was coming, the Caetanis encircled the city with a 1500 yard defensive wall and guard towers. In the 14th century, those wonderful Papal connections were to embroil Ninfa in a Civil War that would cripple the city and make agriculture and commerce impossible. Importance brought intrigue and intrigue brought corruption and violence. The city dwindled.

In the 16th century, Cardinal Nicolò III Caetani gave Ninfa its last gasp, repopulating the city and commanding architect Francesco Perugino to build a lavish garden there. The respite was short lived, as the Cardinal died in 1585 and disasters continued to mount. The marshes began to flooding again and malaria broke out. Ninfa proved too weak to face the wrath of the water spirits. She did not survive the 17th century.

The land remained in the hands of the Caetani family, unused and forgotten until the early 20th century. We’ll explore the reinvention of Ninfa next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Photoblogs of 2015

I love making photoblogs! Researching, putting together images and writing an article take quite a bit of time, but the process is truly rewarding. I have learned about so many wonderful artists and disciplines that I might never have encountered otherwise.

Most of my photoblogs were from the first half of 2015 and they were very popular. Here are the ten posts that received the most views plus one of my favorites. Thanks for looking and reading. I will have more of these for you in 2016!

 

10.Window on the Universe: The Hubble Space Telescope Turns 25

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9.Made of Star Stuff: Thoughts on Milky Way by Mihoko Ogaki

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8. What Lies Between: Exploring the Japanese Tea Garden

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7. Imitating Water: Liquid Light by Tanya Clark

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6. Mindfulness Meets Playfulness: A Gallery of Faerie Houses

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5. Uniting Sacred and Secular: Two Green Cathedrals of Europe

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4. Sharing a Difficult Journey: The Art Installations of Serge Alain Nitegeka

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3. Life Through the Lens: Pioneers of Documentary Photography

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2. Animal Images, Inspiration from Nature, Part Two

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1. Dressing the Story: A Gallery of Operatic Set Design

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Author’s Favorite

Scanning the Nest: The Art of Ellen Hoverkamp

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