Covington photographer Harriet Blum has created a large body of painterly photographs of Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast landscapes.
Photographer Harriet Blum has created a large body of painterly infrared, black-and-white, hand-tinted images of landscapes from Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast that capture the natural and cultural beauty of the land and towns that are changing under the pressure of rapid development and suburban sprawl.
For several decades, Blum has created an extensive portrait of a way life in St. Tammany Parish on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The region that once celebrated its unspoiled piney woods and the health-giving properties of freshwater springs and ozone-rich air is now burdened with rapid population growth and its corollary water pollution, congestion, and slow destruction of small-town life. Her photographs are reminders of what is being lost to suburban sprawl.
Blum was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 27, 1949. She grew up in Miami, Florida, and moved to New Orleans in 1971 after college. Between freelance jobs, stints as a newspaper photographer, and commission work, she has driven the back roads and side streets, hiked through the woods, or paddled canoes up and down the rivers and through the surrounding swamps and forests, allowing the landscape and old structures to speak to her aesthetic. Since the early 1980s, she has photographed ancient live oaks, gracefully aging nineteenth-century houses, commercial buildings, and churches.
Blum, who describes herself as a self-taught photographer, became fascinated with the darkroom process in 1992 while working in the Louisiana State University Medical Center darkroom in New Orleans. As to her signature approach to photography, Blum says she began using black-and-white infrared film in the late 1980s and added hand-tinting after a few workshops. “I developed a style that became uniquely my own,” she said. In the gradual development of that style, she credits surrealist photographer Jerry Uelsmann, “who opened my eyes to photography as an art form,” and Michael P. Smith, who “fine-tuned my darkroom skills and opened the door to my photography career.”
Over the years, Blum has received a number of honors for her work, including an Honorable Mention at the Masur Museum of Art’s 34th Annual Juried Competition in 2007 in Monroe, Louisiana; the 2004 Best of Show at the Jack Swanson Annual Photographic Exhibit, in Covington, Louisiana; and the 1999 Best of Show, at the Third Annual Bethesda Row Arts Festival in Bethesda, Maryland. In 2000 the Ohr-Okeefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi, featured her series, Swaying Softly: Trees of the South.
Blum’s photographs can be found in the collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art; the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois; the Mobile Museum of Art in Alabama; the Loews New Orleans Hotel; Ochsner Foundation Hospitals and Clinics in the New Orleans area; the St. Tammany Parish Hospital and Women’s Pavilion; Covington City Hall; Tulane University Archive Collections; Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal and the Louisiana Supreme Court in New Orleans; and the Breast Center of Acadiana in Lafayette, Louisiana.