2013-09-18 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
“Dog Bless You,” an exhibition of the photography of Mary Bloom, is on display through the winter at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in NYC, the most magnificent of galleries. Mary, the cathedral’s photographer in residence for two decades, is currently staff photographer for the Westminster Kennel Club. Her framed pictures plus an accompanying slide show honor all dogs- from Best In Show champions at the Garden to chained Pit Bulls right here in Wyandanch.
The opening reception on Sept. 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. is open to everyone. Dogs are welcome too. It is fitting that her 72 photos hang under medieval tapestries and her slide show is bordered by a towering stained glass window. Such is Bloom’s reverence to our relationship with dogs.
Picture Dr. Doolittle behind a lens. That’s Mary Bloom. I have only 1,000 words to touch upon her life’s passion for people and animals, so I won’t waste any more lamenting limited space to profile my dear friend.
Born in the Bronx, Mary had a computer career yet volunteered at the ASPCA back when “the A” was in charge of animal control for the city. She honed her camera skills as she helped the exotics- the snakes, monkeys, lion cubs, birds- any species other than dogs and cats. Mary became a wildlife rehabilitator, raising many orphans at home. “There was a story every five minutes at the ASPCA front desk,” Mary said about her dabbling as ASPCA photographer liaison to the city newspapers. She fine-tuned her animal instincts back then too.
You can’t make shelter intake stories up. Reality surpasses your imagination. At the ASPCA, Mary recognized a pair of senior dogs caged together as those belonging to a man she would see on a bench nearby. Using their licenses to track him down, she discovered him unconscious on a mattress in a rundown tenement. Her call to 911 sent him to the hospital and an eventual reunion with his old pups. Imagine- a dog license saved a person’s life.
Her hunch about a Virginia rabies tag on a Gordon Setter reunited the dog with Robert Kennedy Jr. because she knew why the phone number was unlisted and persisted until contacting him. A call from a Fort Apache precinct on a sweltering day brought her to a penguin that police had rescued from the trunk of an abandoned car, a photo in the Daily News and an unsolved mystery of why a penguin was in a box with goose eggs. This African penguin joined the clan at the Coney Island Aquarium because of Mary’s contacts at the Bronx Zoo.
In 1979, Mary’s work for the ASPCA brought her to the Gulf of St. Lawrence with Cleveland Amory on the Friends of Animals ship to record protests over the clubbing of baby harp seals. Canadian authorities wanted to squelch any media coverage and confiscated everyone’s cameras except for Mary’s because the Mounties would not frisk a woman in a rain slicker. When Amory’s attorney was flown ashore to visit his ailing mother, the Associated Press was waiting at the Philly Airport to escort him. He didn’t know that Mary had smuggled her film into his bag. The next day the AP teletyped back: “Photos great. Front page around the world.” She left her computer job and embraced photography from then on.
Mary spent many years as photographer for North Shore Animal League. Her images of “Scarlett,” the heroic, burned mother cat who rescued her kittens from a building fire, are familiar to many. She worked for the September 18, 2013, Amityville Record • 11 AKC Gazette plus many other publications. Her portraits of show dogs as well as pets capture dogs in the act of doing what they love to do. Several years ago she tagged along to publicize Training Wheels outreach in Wyandanch. Volunteers from Almost Home of LI continue this great work while striving to improve the quality of life of the many Pits sentenced to lives at the end of a chain.
During the 1980s and 1990s as photographer in residence at the magnificent Cathedral of St. John the Divine (at Amsterdam and 110th Street in Manhattan), Bloom depicted every aspect of cathedral life from joyous ceremonies to profound sadness such as Jim Henson’s funeral where many mourners, some dressed in Kermit green, waved “flying” paper butterflies. She immortalized visits of dignitaries like Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela; orchestrated the blessing of the animals even an elephant on St. Francis Day and recorded a highwire walk across the cathedral by fellow artist in residence, Phillipe Petit. She volunteered at the Soup Kitchen and spent years working with the homeless. Mary raised the trio of peacocks still roaming the cathedral grounds. All the while, she photographed dogs at the cathedral. At one point there were 18 dogs living in the church residences.
“Now, dogs are the heart of my work. It’s my intention and purpose to create images that let everyone know these beloved creatures are not underlings- they are equals, bringing us their own gifts to better our lives. There are a thousand ways that dogs enrich our experiences. As their ambassador, I have an inherent need to show that I’m merely giving back what they gave me,” Mary said.
Mary Bloom has been the staff photographer for Westminster Kennel Club since 1995. She can communicate with her canine subjects like no other. Be it “Uno” bugling at Best In Show, a therapy dog cuddling a child stricken with cancer or Irish Setter puppies lined up studiously on a bench, all dogs listen when Mary vocalizes her squeaky toy noises.
Ironically, three years ago during a puppy photo shoot, an adult Labrador body-slammed her leg from behind. The fall pulverized Mary’s knee and broke her leg in two places, landing her in a wheelchair for months. After two surgeries she walks with braces and a cane even while dragging her camera bag.
Despite the hardship, Mary feels the accident halted her fast pace and taught her life lessons. “I have more time now for the important things that I had been neglecting since I was thrust into a quieter world. Time is the best gift of all,” she says.
Yes, that is true, and each of her photos freezes a moment in time for eternity. Take the time to go see “Dog Bless You” at the glorious cathedral. You will be glad you did.