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Bob Mazzer, Photographer

August 1, 2013
by the gentle author

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

Mott outside Basil House in Berners St with Bob’s mother Augusta known as “Jean,” 1947

Bob sits on his dad’s taxi in Berners St, 1948

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 and his dad, 1950

Bob with his dad visiting a spitfire in Trafalgar Sq, 1952

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

Bob Mazzer was given his first camera for his Bar Mitzvah at thirteen years old at the Bernard Baron Settlement Synagogue.

Two of the earliest tube pictures by Bob Mazzer.

Photographs copyright © Bob Mazzer

You may like to take a look at Bob Mazzer’s photographs

Bob Mazzer on the Tube

More Bob Mazzer on the Tube

Bob Mazzer on the Tube Today

25 Responses leave one →
  1. Moyra Peralta permalink
    August 1, 2013

    In a word, ‘fascinating!’
    Do so love these family histories… AND Bob’s photographs…

  2. August 1, 2013

    Wonderful family photos, thanks for showing these 🙂

  3. August 1, 2013

    Great photos & what a cute little boy!
    Did Bob go to Woodberry Down Comprehensive School? If so he was very talented then. If not there are two London Bob Mazzer’s!

  4. Irene permalink
    August 1, 2013

    Thank you GA for bringing the East End to life.

  5. August 1, 2013

    Fabulous photos. There is something so direct and vital about photography before digital manipulation.

  6. Annie permalink
    August 1, 2013

    Pure Joy!……. looking at these old photos! Thank you for sharing this! This should inspire one to give a camera to a child!

  7. John Campbell permalink
    August 1, 2013

    Great to meet the artist behind the pictures. Love the tube photographs, sent me right back to the days when it all looked just like that! Many thanks.

  8. August 1, 2013

    Loved the story about the man with the blue face 😉 The photos are fantastic.

  9. August 1, 2013

    oh Bob ! ,
    you were SO CUTE !!
    yes , the real deal , through and through , continued good luck to this artist and his work .
    Bobs images lingered in my mind for a long time after first seeing them here.
    We may be lucky and get to see Bobs first American photographs, its interesting what he says about innocence and then your eyes being opened , but his enthusiasm for life will never be tainted ,of that I am sure.
    So heartwarming to learn the background , thanks again G.A for listening and sharing.

  10. August 3, 2013

    As a photographer myself, I appreciate what you say about trying to instil your pictures with a virgin quality of the joy of seeing things for the first time. For me, who has a occasional tendency to be a tad too formal and buttoned-down in my street pictures, looking at the work of the American master Garry Winogrand (most active in the 1960s and 70s) is highly educational. He conveys a raw visual thrill through loose compositions that in other hands might fall apart. But he imbued everything with an intensity that was an extension of his own character. I see some of those qualities in your work on the Tube, Bob – and like many other people commenting, I urge you to publish a book of those wonderful, life-affirming pictures.

  11. August 8, 2013

    Love to see the first American photos Bob.

  12. Lesley Watters (Churchman) permalink
    September 12, 2013

    Just found this on an Arsenal Blog that I frequent – how bizarre is that Bob.

    I thought that you lived at the seaside now !

  13. Anita Courtney permalink
    October 17, 2013

    I have most of Robert’s photos in my own photo album. I am his mother’s first cousin, and spent many crowded hours in their Berner Street flat, flirting with the boys at the settlement next door. From the get go, he was a very talented photographer. And I remember very clearly a photo in a magazine of a very naked and pregnant lady, needless to say, I think they kept that photo away from my aunt, his grandmother. I hope this article goes around the world, so the rest of our diminishing family can say “kudos” to our dear Robert. Your parents would be very proud of you. Love from cousin Anita, Shelley, and Graham.

  14. Martin Pover permalink
    October 26, 2013

    I too would love to see the ’69 stuff from the States Bob. I was there myself that year, also struggling with a crap camera with only half a lens!

  15. carole zirlin permalink
    January 10, 2014

    Your pics are absolutely amazing. I saw the pics of the underground which are priceless and a part of our Lonbdon history. I too commuted from East London to Central London every day to work on the Central line.. These pics took me straight back to those times. I too was born at the same hospital and later worked in the same hospital.. so these pics are prized gems and so close to my heart. My father was a photographer back then and perhaps our father’s knew each other…. I too take pics, but I am not talented like you unfortunately….
    Anyway…you are extremely talented.. as talented as any of the big names in photography… I hope you have the recognition you deserve.
    If you have a book I will buy it
    Congratulations and thank you

  16. Michael Martin permalink
    January 10, 2014

    BOB!…..Long time no see……….Love the history and as always, love the pics.(Daily Mail)
    I feel totally and utterly privileged that we work together (albeit only briefly) back in the wild and dizzy heights (??!!) of a local newspaper….
    Besr wishes from one old dog to another……x
    Michael Martin.

  17. March 13, 2014

    great photographs and thank you for showing them to me ,I have taken photographs most of my adult life ,its nice to look back ,at the times when we were happy lets face it we take photos of happy times not sad times ,lots of cameras at weddings and not many, if any at funeral’s ,these photos are not just our memories but the history of the east end ,great stuff thanks
    all the best essexcockney

  18. Robert G. Redford permalink
    June 2, 2014

    Loved the photos, certainly took me back to my commuting years between Osterley and the Angel for five long years. Would love to have photographed some of the characters that I saw every day yet never said as much as a good morning to any of them much to my regret. Then commuters never talked to each other especially on the tube.(1957 to 1962)

  19. Dolores Pinto permalink
    June 9, 2014

    Fabulous photo’s, intriguing subjects. Have you had an exhibition? Your work would make a great documentary. I will buy your book when it come out. Thanks for showing us your work.

  20. edward woolf permalink
    June 19, 2014

    Robert, well I knew you as that name when we were kids at school. Would love to chat with you. When are you at the Shoreditch exhibition?

  21. Christophe permalink
    July 1, 2014

    Bravo, bravo, bravo…
    That of good memories of this time early 80, or my expériment of professional photographer

  22. October 10, 2014

    I loved the photographs and brought some happy memories of my early days in London travelling on the tube between Wood Green and Camden Town. I wish I had taken some interesting shots then, I am now even more inspired to carry on with my current project of tube photography.
    Thank you Bob.

  23. Nick Reason permalink
    March 29, 2015

    Knew you as Robert attending Woodberry Down Primary and comprehensive schools. John Ashwell, Kenny Moore, Tom O’Neil and the 2 of us spent a fabulous week in Carbis Bay. What memories!
    I remember you taking stunning black and whites back then in your teens.
    What happened to Robert Mazzer ther artist?
    Love to hear from you.

  24. Annette Brower permalink
    March 21, 2016

    Wow, Robert, you brought a tear to my eyes, seeing never before seen pics of “us” your cousins, and the impact our dad Monty had on you, you always had a camera round your neck.

  25. Jane permalink
    June 19, 2016

    What photographs. Bob’s parents by the taxi – a handsome couple. Bob in 1950’s Berner’s Street (in smart leisure suit) already revealing a measured, observational direct gaze.
    And oh! That last photograph brings back the horror times of wearing nylons. The snagging… the ladders…

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