‘I had a really interesting life’: Kiwi war photographer reflects on a lifetime behind the lens

Photographer Bruce Moss has spent decades traveling the world, capturing everything from wars to royal tours. He is now 95 years old and hasn’t stopped taking pictures, as Catherine Groenestein reports.

“I spotted this young soldier, fresh off the landing craft looking scared in spirit,” photojournalist Bruce Moss, 95, recalls from a photo he took. over 50 years.

The year was 1965 and Moss was on a mission that became a highlight of his career – covering the Vietnam War.

“When I moved in, I caught his attention, which resulted in this photo. I often wonder if he succeeded.

Bruce Moss, 95, talks about his career as a photojournalist working around the world, including the Vietnam War.

ANDY JACKSON / stuff

Bruce Moss, 95, talks about his career as a photojournalist working around the world, including the Vietnam War.

On Qui Nhon beach in southern Vietnam, the New Zealander was the only photographer to witness the initial landing of the 7th Cavalry Marines, when he saw the young man sitting on sacks, with barbed wire running over golden sand.

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“All that I was told press headquarters in Saigon that morning that there was something interesting possible on Qui Nhon beach, and the other correspondents were looking for something promising more action, ”Moss says.

Bruce Moss photographed General Westmoreland, commander of US forces in South Vietnam, on a beach in Vietnam while awaiting the initial landing of the 7th Cavalry Marines.

Bruce moss

Bruce Moss photographed General Westmoreland, commander of US forces in South Vietnam, on a beach in Vietnam while awaiting the initial landing of the 7th Cavalry Marines.

“So I found myself alone alongside General Westmoreland, commander of US forces in South Vietnam, and Henry Cabot Lodge, US ambassador to South Vietnam, while awaiting the initial landing of the 7th Cavalry Marines. I remember Lodge telling me: “We will fix the situation soon, I just had my old C47 replaced by a jet plane”. “

Bruce Moss met Henry Cabot Lodge, U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, while on a beach in Vietnam awaiting the initial landing of the 7th Cavalry Marines.

Bruce moss

Bruce Moss met Henry Cabot Lodge, U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, while on a beach in Vietnam awaiting the initial landing of the 7th Cavalry Marines.

Moss spent seven weeks in Vietnam, piloted in a helicopter.

He still remembers the fear in the eyes of a young mother, baby at the breast, who was being treated by an American doctor after being struck with napalm.

“When I lifted my camera, she thought I was going to shoot her.”

These captured Viet Cong awaited an uncertain fate after being unloaded from a Huey helicopter directly from a combat zone near Pleiku, Vietnam during the war.

Bruce moss

These captured Viet Cong awaited an uncertain fate after being unloaded from a Huey helicopter directly from a combat zone near Pleiku, Vietnam during the war.

When it left Vietnam, the 707 plane took off from Saigon almost straight up.

“We took off very quickly because of the shells and rockets.

“I sat in a bathtub filled with disinfectant in Hong Kong, covered in sores and itching, hoping I could get rid of the bugs, then slept for two days.

"This formation of the Royal Canadian Air Force Saber Aerobatic Team had to slow down so I could follow them in a slower Lockheed T-Bird Jet.  I remember asking the guy on the other end if he could go up a bit.  On the way back, he thanked me by zooming in and patting my kite at full speed, ”says Bruce Moss.

Bruce moss

“This formation of the Royal Canadian Air Force Saber Acrobatic Team must have slowed down, so I could follow them in a slower Lockheed T-Bird Jet. I remember asking the fellow at the other end if he could ride one On the way back he thanked me by zooming in and tapping my wing at full speed, ”says Bruce Moss.

Moss credits his charm and the novelty of his New Zealand accent to helping him find his way into his dream job as a photojournalist.

He has worked on numerous publications, including the Canadian magazineWeekend, which has sold three million copies per week, and has photographed numerous events and historical figures.

A first posting was a portrait of Edmund Hillary when he toured the world after climbing Mount Everest.

Years after he first photographed it, Bruce Moss took this photo of Sir Edmund Hillary in Kaitaia on the day of the show.

Bruce moss

Years after he first photographed it, Bruce Moss took this photo of Sir Edmund Hillary in Kaitaia on the day of the show.

The photo of Moss, of Hillary lying on a hotel bed, her boots looking huge, was rejected by her editor at the time, but he sold it to Life magazine for around US $ 200 – the equivalent of US $ 2,000 (NZ $ 2,758) in current currency.

Other assignments included the first flight from New York to South America, several royal tours, and sharing a table with actors Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski just a week before Tate’s assassination in August 1969 by Manson family members.

“I followed the Queen Mother on a tour of Nova Scotia. She always looked lively in the photos because she looked around, would recognize and greet the press photographers accompanying her.

Moss, who turns 96 in August, grew up in Northland, Wairarapa and Cambridge. He was a teenager when his family moved to Inglewood, where his father, director of BNZ bank, was transferred.

A weekend job rewinding films after they were shown at Inglewood’s “talkies” sparked a love of cinema.

“I love the smell of acetone and love the smell of the freshly opened film, especially the color.”

It was a miserable time as he was bullied at New Plymouth Boys’ High School. He had moved there from the prestigious St Peter’s School in Cambridge, where he had discovered photography and music for the first time.

He remembers sitting on the beach in New Plymouth, dreaming of going abroad.

Later he read a book by a journalist titled How to travel the world and get paid, and took a ferry to Sydney, where he survived on cornflakes and water in the YMCA hostel, until he got a job at a hotel in the Blue Mountains.

Bruce Moss in the 1960s photographing the progress of the world's largest underground power station under construction 600 meters below a mountain range in British Columbia, Canada.  It was then using the standard press camera, a 4 x 5 speed graphic with its bulb flash mount.

Bruce moss

Bruce Moss in the 1960s photographing the progress of the world’s largest underground power station under construction 600 meters below a mountain range in British Columbia, Canada. It was then using the standard press camera, a 4 x 5 speed graphic with its bulb flash mount.

There, a woman called Betty who worked in the office taught her to type on her typewriter and encouraged her to write.

“One day, as the fog rolled over Katoomba, we hopped on a train and went to sunny Queensland.

They ended up at Daydream Island, an exclusive resort, where Betty found piano work to entertain guests and told the owners Moss was her nephew.

The editor of Reader’s Digest came to stay on the island, and Moss asked for advice on how to get started in journalism.

“He said, if you want to be a journalist, just write,” Moss recalls.

His first story was about the timber industry in New Zealand and was published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Bruce Moss captured these children at a school in Waitomo.  “I thought it would make a great photo for an Air New Zealand ad campaign depicting the Kiwi way of life.  The woman in charge of the airline's account in San Francisco thought differently and said: 'We could never use this, the kids are barefoot.  She had never visited the country.

Bruce moss

Bruce Moss captured these children at a school in Waitomo. “I thought it would make a great photo for an Air New Zealand ad campaign depicting the Kiwi way of life. The woman in charge of the airline’s account in San Francisco thought differently and said: ‘We could never use this, the kids are barefoot. She had never visited the country.

In 1952 he went to Canada and found a job at the Vancouver Sun, mixing chemicals in the darkroom, and finally taking pictures.

For nearly three decades in Canada, Moss saw his work published in the National Geographic, Life, and other famous titles.

Bruce Moss photographed this boatman at dawn in Varanasi on the Ganges, India.  “Her son was sitting at the bow playing the flute.  Small marigold rafts holding lighted candles floated alongside to escort a corpse.

Bruce moss

Bruce Moss photographed this boatman at dawn in Varanasi on the Ganges, India. “Her son was sitting at the bow playing the flute. Small marigold rafts holding lighted candles floated alongside to escort a corpse.

When he finally returned to New Zealand, he bought a small bach in Northland.

“I traveled all over the world, I did freelance work, all from my little cabin in Ahipara.

In the early 1990s, he decided to return to Taranaki.

“I wanted to be halfway between Auckland and Wellington, and by pure chance I came down via Taumarunui.

He stopped in Stratford for coffee and struck up a conversation with someone on the main street who told him houses were cheap there.

“A new, very chic retirement home was being built, and I bought the first unit.

Bruce Moss lives in Stratford, Taranaki, and now uses a phone to take photos instead of a camera.

ANDY JACKSON / stuff

Bruce Moss lives in Stratford, Taranaki, and now uses a phone to take photos instead of a camera.

He’s been there ever since, still driving and living independently.

Moss recently got a cell phone and now uses it instead of a camera to take pictures.

He attributes his long life to his many interests and to chance.

A windy day in Opunake, overlooking the beach.  Bruce Moss took this photo four years ago.

Bruce Moss / stuff

A windy day in Opunake, overlooking the beach. Bruce Moss took this photo four years ago.

“I’m extremely grateful for a pretty exciting life, I very much appreciate chance, things that happened to my advantage that were unlikely.

“The key is to be grateful for what you have and to not give up and be concerned about what might happen,” he says.

“I don’t have grandchildren, but I’ve had a really interesting life.”


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