Thursday, 10 November 2011

Underwater Beauties

I came across this amusing photograph on the net today, and decided to do some digging to find out who the photographer was.  Doing so unearthed a treasury of underwater photography, by a pioneer of the craft.

Bruce Mozert was born in 1916 in Newark, Ohio, the youngest of three children.  In the mid 1930s, his sister Zoe moved to New York city.  Zoe would go on to become one of the most famous pin-up artists and models of the 30s and 40s, and that's one of her paintings above. (I'm definitely doing something about her in a future post!).

Mozert tagged along with his sister, and began working as a photographer. It was Zoe who introduced him to Victor de Palma, a top photographer for Life magazine (shown above spruiking for the New York Institute of Photography). Mozert worked with de Palma, before moving into freelance work.  He travelled around, photographing anything that he thought would be newsworthy, and had his photographs published daily in newspapers such as the New York Mirror and Life.

1942 postcard of Silver Springs from Moody's Collectibles

In 1938, Mozert visited Silver Springs in Florida, because he had heard that Johnny Weissmuller was filming one of his Tarzan movies there. Silver Springs was a popular tourist destination, with visitors taking rides in glass-bottom boats and swimming in the crystal-clear waters, and enjoying water-skiing shows and trained porpoises.  In it's heyday in the 1950s, the Springs had 800,000 visitors annually.

 Mozert was frustrated that one of the photos he wanted to take, or Weissmuller swimming in the waters of the spring, was impossible to take.  A waterproof drum had been constructed for the movie's cameraman to shoot the underwater scenes from, but there was no room for Mozert as well.  To solve the problem, Mozert built what was probably the very first underwater housing for his camera out of galvanised metal sheeting, old inner tubes, and rubber cement.
“When I showed up at the set the next morning, they all laughed at me,” he says. “But I just walked into the water and took my pictures.”
 MGM was so impressed with the resulting pictures that they used them as publicity stills for the movie.

Mozert remained in Silver Springs and continued to hone his underwater-photography skills.  At his peak, his photographs appeared on two magazine covers a week.  He worked on many films, including all three Creature of the Black Lagoon movies (above), and also did underwater camera work for several television shows.

It is his underwater photographs, used as publicity for the clarity of Silver Springs' water, that are the most fascinating.  Mozert created scenes of people doing ordinary things - golfing, mowing the lawn, talking on the telephone...but all underwater. 

Mozert put a lot of thought into his shoots. For a shot such as this, Mozert used condensed milk to simulate 'smoke' rising from a barbeque.  For bubbles in a champagne glass he used Alker-Seltzer.

Not all his famous shots were underwater ones.  This photograph of Jayne Mansfield was taken in 1955.  The relatively unknown Mansfield was in Silver Springs as part of a publicity drive for the Howard Hughes movie Underwater. At a promotional event for the movie, Mansfield and several other swimmers took part in an underwater skit, during which the top of her swimsuit 'accidentally' came undone.  The star of the movie, Jane Russell was not impressed with the publicity this garnered for the young starlet.  Mozert had taken this photograph of Mansfield on the beach, and this picture was used for a lot of the publicity surrounding the incident.

In 2006 it was reported that Mozert was still working at the age of 91, driving to his studio (shown above) at the Springs every day.  In 2004 he brought out a calendar of his work, and he still occasionally does some ariel photography - piloting the plane himself, of course! He took his last underwater photographs at the age of 86, although he has been toying with the idea of a remote controlled boat with an underwater camera. "Why should I retire?" he asks, "I love what I do."

If you want to know more about Mozert, a book of his work was published in 2008 called Silver Springs: The Underwater Photography of Bruce Mozert by Gary Monroe.  You can buy a signed copy from Mozert's website.

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