Bob Mazzer, Photographer
Bob Mazzer at eight years old
Observe the astute gaze of the young photographer – evidence, perhaps, that even before he got his first camera as a Bar Mitzvah gift at thirteen years old, Bob Mazzer already possessed the singular vision that was to make his pictures so distinctive. Indeed, if you examine all Bob’s childhood photos many possess the same arresting glance that I consider a praecursor of his future talent.
“I’m the real deal,” Bob admitted to me proudly when I first met him, “born in the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, I grew up in Berners St where I lived in Basil House next to the Synagogue that I went to every Saturday.”
“My experience of life up to nine years old, when we left the East End, was that it was a golden age. Of course, there was some bad stuff – I remember the iron gates to Basil House collapsing on top of somebody and we had to stay indoors. I remember running across the road from the school gates opposite and being hit by a car, and I came round in the gutter with a crowd standing over me.
Twice a year, we’d go up to Manchester to visit my mother’s family and my dad, who was a cabbie, would drop us off at Euston. I remember the sound of the steam blowing off, at six years old it is the loudest thing you’ve ever heard.
There was a photographer on my mother’s side, my Uncle Monty, a Mancunian who had his own studio. It failed and he opened a men’s wear shop when I was very young but I think the magic of it must have sunk in. The artistic talent came down through my mother’s side. One of my cousins was an architect for the London County Council and my mother’s youngest brother worked for Mather & Platt who made the engines for the fountains at Marble Arch – and as a kid, I was taken to see them. My mother’s father had been cut of out the family for philandering and giving money to floozies. He went to live in a cottage and I knew him as ‘the man with the blue face’ because in every photo his face was biroed out. I knew nothing. I was only told who he was when I was older, after he died. Engineers, architects and philanderers – all from my mother’s family and it had a huge influence upon me.
A lot of my father’s family moved out of the East End to a bright new future. We only had part of a passageway as a kitchen outside the flat and when I went back years later, I couldn’t believe how small it all was. My parents had friends that moved to Woodbery Down where there was the first Comprehensive School and that was the catalyst for us to move too.
I got a camera when I was Bar Mitzvahed at thirteen. It was an Ilford Sporty, a crap little camera of plastic and tin and I still have the first photograph I took with it, a picture of the London Hilton. But the genesis of my photography was at Woodberry Down School where they had a dark room. It was all down to my Art Master, Mike Palmer. He put the books of Irving Penn and Cartier Bresson in front of me said, ‘You can do this.’ I was the star pupil in the Art Department and I didn’t much bother with anything else, I used to bunk off other lessons and hang out in the Art Room.
At thirteen years old, I started going to Saturday Art Club at Hornsey College of Art. I didn’t know what was going on then because I was a kid, I was in my own personal universe. When I studied Graphic Design, I only completed one design project because I spent all my time developing my photographs. There was Enzo Ragazzini, an Italian Photographer who had a studio in the Cromwell Rd and we students would get stoned there and drive his Citroen around and do photography projects. He showed me the excitement of being successful at photography and I learnt a lot of darkroom technique from him.
In 1969, I was twenty-one and went to America with a camera with no lens and my American girlfriend bought me a lens in Pittsburgh. That kicked me off, I started photographing America and blew my mind at the first opportunity. I still value the innocence of the photographs I took then. Even now, I’m trying to show the quality of seeing things for the first time that comes through in those pictures. It can be quite hard to recover that vision once you’ve had your eyes opened.”
Bob’s dad was a cab driver known as “Mottle” or “Mott” Mazzer, 1947
Bob is wheeled past the Tower of London by his mum in 1948, on the right is his mother’s sister-in-law and cousin.
Bob in Berners St, 1950
Bob at Harry Gosling school, 1953
Bob climbs on a cannon outside the Tower of London in 1956 with his grandmother and sister in the foreground and cousins on the cannon
Two of the earliest tube pictures by Bob Mazzer.
Photographs copyright © Bob Mazzer
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