As I was looking back at my summer photographs, underwater GoPro for the most part, I began to realise how recent it is that underwater photography is common to everyday life. Practically anyone today can instagram and share a snap or two from the surfing vacation, snorkelling, wakeboarding or simply chilling in the pool, but I still remember my teenage me wanting a camera case to go dive with it, and then being still too expensive. This wasn’t, relatively, that long ago, and Bruce Mozert, 99 this year, already accomplished a self-made housing case in his twenties.
Bruce Mozert is considered to be a pioneer of underwater photography and his images of Silver Springs, Florida, were widely broadcast during the early and mid 20th century.
He graduated high school and took a job as a truck driver that brought coal to New Jersey, but quickly decided he was “too sensitive to be a truck driver” and moved to New York City to live with his sister, model and pin-up artist Zoë Mozert. By the age of 20 he was already an accomplished photographer in NYC. Born in Newark (1916) as Bruce Moser, Ohio, moved to Silver Springs in the fall of 1938 when they were making Tarzan films, and soon after arriving he built his first underwater camera case.
For some 45 years (except for service with the Army Air Forces during World War II), he created scenes of people —comely young women, for the most part— doing ordinary tasks that would be done on land, such as talking on the phone, cooking, playing golf, reading the newspaper…underwater, all the better to show off the wondrous clarity of Silver Springs’ waters. Most of the women were actually employees of Silver Springs and one of his most frequently shot models, Ginger Stanley, was an underwater stunt double for Creature from the Black Lagoon. He also took underwater movie stills for the many productions filmed in Silver Springs. Above the water, he took pictures of visitors going on glass bottom boat tours, developed the film while they were on the tour, and then had the photos ready to sell to visitors when they returned.
“My imagination runs away with me”
Some of the tricks used include some dry ice or Alka-Seltzer in the glass to create bubbles in a champagne flute; to simulate smoke rising from a grill, he used canned condensed milk. “The fat in the milk would cause it to rise, creating ‘smoke’ for a long time,” he says. With his meticulous production values and surreal vision, Mozert cast Silver Springs in a light perfectly suited to postwar America. His images anchored a national publicity campaign for the springs from the 1940s through the ’70s; competing against water-skiing shows, dancing porpoises, leaping whales and hungry alligators, Silver Springs remained one of Florida’s premier attractions, the Disney World of its day. Then, in 1971, came Disney World. The playful collection has recently come to light as several of the photographs are currently being exhibited at the Holden Luntz Gallery in Palm Beach, Florida.
The pictures he took were so clear that MGM took them to Hollywood, where Mozert continued to develop his ideas – including the first high-speed camera case and first underwater lighting. He then worked as an underwater motion picture cameraman for NBC, ABC, CBS and many Hollywood productions.
Mozert now works out of his studio in Ocala, Florida, where he mainly digitizes customers’ home movies. At 91 he was still piloting his own plane and accepting the occasional commission for aerial photographs.
You can acquire his book Silver Springs — The Underwater Photography of Bruce Mozert through his website and also separate prints. And if you’re interested in his story, he can also be reached at: email@example.com.