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.
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.
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
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.
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 Life, Look 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.