Harriet Blum's Live Oaks

Seven Sisters Oak in Mandeville, Louisiana, currently the President of the Live Oak Society. Harriet Blum used to live about 10 miles from this tree. "For many years, I enjoyed bringing guests to view this magnificent wonder," she says. "Although there is a house very close to the Seven Sisters tree, I have chosen to show the tree without the house, as I have in all my photographs of trees. Just my personal preference."

The subject of the latest addition to our Oak Artist series is Harriet Blum, whose work straddles the media of photography and painting: her idiosyncratic technique involves infrared film photography and hand-coloring with transparent oils and pencils.

Harriet was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, grew up in Miami, Florida, and moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, after college. It was here that she came across the ancient live oaks (Quercus virginiana) that would become one of her favorite subjects, along with other trees, landscapes, and waterscapes.

She describes herself as a self-taught photographer and became fascinated with the darkroom process while working as an electron microscopist for LSU Medical School in New Orleans. She later began using black-and-white infrared film and hand-tinting the photographs, creating a unique personal style.

Despite the important role the darkroom process plays in her work, for Harriet the key is in seeing the image and the moment she wants to capture. “Many artists create art from a blank canvas or a chunk of clay,” she says. “For me, the art is first in “seeing” something special, whether it is as mundane as rotting boards on a house, or

The Fairchild Oak in Ormond Beach, Florida. "I am glad I took the photo when I did, because many of the big branches that are in my photograph are no longer there. The same is true for Old Dickory in Harahan, Louisiana and Live Oak with Fern and Moss in Mandeville, Louisiana (see below). Branches have either been cut or have broken over the years and the tree does not look like it did in my photograph. Guess that is the way things go... age changes us all, including trees." 

as beautiful as the landscape in a swamp. After “seeing” that special something, I record it on film. Only then do I have an idea of where that “moment in time” will take me.”

Photographing large live oaks presents specific challenges. “Most of my experience photographing oaks is in Louisiana,” she says. “These Southern live oaks spread their branches out in many directions and it's impossible to get a good photograph of the whole tree without a wide angle lens, a very wide angle lens, unless you are far away. In most of the photographs I have taken of oaks, I have used black-and-white infrared film. This film gives the pictures a soft, dreamy, ethereal look. I then hand-tint the photograph using transparent oils. I have found with this film and other black-and-white films, it's best to shoot on a cloudy or overcast day as detail in the shadow areas will be more visible if they are not in harsh shadows. Of course, digital photography has changed everything and the problems with using infrared film are often less of a challenge or can be manipulated later in the computer. I still prefer the look of infrared film, but since I have moved and don't have my darkroom anymore, I am not using film like I used to.”

Old Dickory, Harahan, Louisiana Live Oak with Fern and Moss, Mandeville, Louisiana

Harriet Blum’s photographs can be found in the collections of several museums in Louisiana and other cities in the United States, and her series Swaying Softly: Trees of the South was featured in a one-woman-show at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi. She has received numerous awards in competitions around the US (see her website at www.harrietblum.com for details). Prints of Harriet’s works are available in a variety of sizes, on paper, canvas, or murals. More information on her website or etsy shop: www.etsy.com/shop/HarrietBlum