Maria Bloom, a champion of animals who, as a staff photographer for the Westminster Kennel Club, photographed its annual dog show with a careful eye to illustrate the bond between dogs and the handlers who led them through the judges’ rings, died September 28 in Poughkeepsie, NY She was 81.
Her nephew Robert McLoughlin said the cause was gallbladder cancer.
Mrs. Bloom was a familiar sight in Westminster. With her curly brown curls around her face, she knelt and crawled up on legs weakened by neuropathy to find the right pictures of race winners on the floor in Madison Square Garden. During her 21 years on the show, starting in 1995, she sometimes jostled and yelled through a hustle and bustle of photographers to get the best position for a shot, and admonished handlers if they misbehaved.
“She said to the handlers, ‘Take your hands off his neck, you’re choking him!'” Said David Frei, former Kennel Club communications director and broadcaster for the dog show. “It was an honor for her to yell at you while she was taking a great photo.”
At the 2010 exhibition, Ms. Bloom limped from one breed judge ring to another. She discovered dogs she knew and admired, such as Sadie, a Scottish terrier (“Oh, beautiful,” she said after taking some photos) that would later win Best in Show. She watched dizzy as a parade of Irish red and white setters was rated for the first time on the show.
“That is so exciting!” she told the New York Times in her high-pitched voice. “I have a friend who brought some from Ireland. Having them around is like a sedative. “
Then after the Great Danes competed, she scanned her digital footage to find out exactly where two of them had gotten into an argument (“Look at his eyes,” she said. “He doesn’t like the red one”) and looked then attach them to the picture of the winner and his owner.
“Happy!” she said as she looked at the triumphant handler and the well-positioned dog. “This is something special.”
To persuade dogs to behave for a portrait, she made high-pitched noises that caught their attention, but she did not feed them treats. Almost without exception, they did their bid.
“People will say, ‘Oh, you’re a dog whisperer'” She told The New Yorker in 2012. “No, no, it’s not that at all. I just understand who they are. I mean, not like previous life experiences, but I know your feelings. “
Ms. Bloom was also the photographer in residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights in Manhattan. From the early 1980s to 2002, she documented holiday services, consecrations, the work of other artists in residence, and visits from dignitaries such as Mother Teresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama, whom she captured while cuddling with a Tibetan spaniel.
She was part of a group that launched the cathedral’s annual animal blessing to celebrate the feast of St. Francis. For a year she helped arrange the presence of an elephant, who marched down the aisle of the cathedral for his blessing.
In 2013 the cathedral opened an exhibition of Ms. Bloom’s dog photographs, “Dog Bless You: The Photography of Mary Bloom.”
In the brochure of this exhibition she wrote that from childhood dogs had taught me lessons, comforted me, played games and denied me loneliness, but most of all they loved me. It was, she said, “a rare, unconditional love that has nourished me for a lifetime.”
Bill Berloni, who trains animals for Broadway shows, films, television series, and commercials, remembered Ms. Bloom as a trusted advisor and voice of conscience.
“She has been my mentor in all things human,” he said on the phone. “When I had an ethical dilemma, I would call Mary.”
Mary Elizabeth Kreykenbohm was born on August 15, 1940 in the Bronx to August and Elizabeth (Reilly) Kreykenbohm. Her father was a baker; her mother was a housewife who took in boarders and raised Dalmatians and poodles. As a girl, Mary was captivated by articles and pictures in publications such as Popular Dogs and Dog World from dog shows.
“I was taken to the Westminster dog show when I was 6 years old, which was just a tube ride away.” She told Dog News in 2019. “When I was growing up, I just wanted to promise myself a ticket to Madison Square Garden for Christmas.”
Ms. Bloom worked for a computer company in the 1960s before marrying salesman Leighton Bloom in 1968. About a decade later, they divorced. She also worked in a New York University animal laboratory and as a department store saleswoman.
As a self-taught artist, she worked as a freelance photographer for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the North Shore Animal League in the mid-1970s. These relationships would last over 30 years.
During those years, she also worked for the ASPCA as a dog groomer and wildlife rehabilitation specialist to find suitable locations for the snakes, monkeys, hawks and other animals that people had brought into their homes. Her activities inspired the author and illustrator Aliki to write two children’s books “Bei Mary Bloom” (1978) and “Overnight with Mary Bloom” (1987) about a little girl visiting Mrs. Bloom, where she lived at different times, two English hedgehogs , an armadillo, a scented skunk, a gray parrot and a blind monkey.
In 1979 Ms. Bloom took part in a trip funded by Fund for Animals, the organization of the writer and animal activist Cleveland Amory, to protest the whipping of baby seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off the Labrador coast. One morning, she told the Times, she knelt on the ice at dawn to snap a picture of an activist spraying red paint on a seal to make it unusable for hunters.
Instead of risking her film being confiscated by the Canadian authorities who did not want to see the carnage covered, she said she slipped it into a duffel bag carried by Mr Amory’s attorney who took it to Philadelphia, where The Associated Press was distributed their photos.
Ms. Bloom, who lived in Beacon, NY, leaves no immediate survivors.
Gabriel Rangel, a dog handler who led three dogs to the Best in Show at Westminster, remembered Ms. Bloom’s attention to detail.
“She was so dedicated and always made sure everything was right,” he said. “She wanted to capture the feelings and the meaning of the moment.”