As a boy, J.R. Eyerman (1906-1985) had already shot thousands of pictures with his father in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Then, at age 15, he entered the University of Washington, where he studied engineering. He eventually returned to photography and joined LIFE in 1942, where he photographed combat from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. At one point, Eyerman accidentally discovered the code name for the invasion of Japan (“Olympic”), but he kept his mouth shut and his lens open. He was one of the first to reach Hiroshima after the A-bomb hit. With the war over, Eyerman drew on his technical background to develop several impressive innovations in photography, including an electric-eye mechanism that tripped the shutters of nine cameras to take pictures of an atomic blast; a camera that could function 3,600 feet below the ocean’s surface; robot cameras that took pictures 107 miles up in an early U.S. research rocket; and color film that was speeded up to make possible detailed photos of the aurora borealis.
For some LIFE photographers, the camera was merely a way to get a picture; for others, it was an aspect of the medium that could be altered, expanded, improved. Eyerman was certainly one of the latter. For a photo essay on the Navy’s undersea operations, he designed his own camera and equipment. For the nuclear-bomb test, he rigged nine cameras to shoot simultaneously.
—Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers