I've been trading comments on Chiapas with Lassë of The Big Thoughts, and Franz Blom came up -- the Dane who worked at Palenque and set up La Casa Na Bolom in San Cristóbol de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico. Blom’s wife Trudy is of particular interest to me – a quick google turns up nada on her work, so I thought I’d post this to at least create a point of reference in the great google-sphere – because her work really should receive more attention.
I come by what I know of Gertrude Blom through Nick Hopkins and Kathryn Josserand, both Mayanists, who I’ve written about here before, and Chip Morris, the MacArthur Genius Grantee and author of the Living Maya, who lived near the Bloms in San Cristóbol, and knew them well.
Nick studied under Trudy’s husband Franz, and Nick and Kathryn stayed with Trudy at La Casa Na Bolom frequently after Franz passed away. They have some great stories to tell about Trudy and her regal ways, but I’ll stick to the ones that matter here: Franz and Trudy worked closely with the Lacandon Maya, and established La Casa Na Bolom as a research center for better understanding their language and culture – and also, as I understand it, to try to elevate the standing of the Lacandon within the Mexican context in which they live -- a culture which by and large treats them very poorly, as an indigenous people. (An ongoing trend here in the Americas.)
Trudy’s photographs of the Lacandon are startling and endlessly appealing for their warmth and humanity. They’re also notable, of course, because they show the Lacandon within their cultural context – something that’s not readily available to outsiders (although is more so now, given the work that the Blom’s did). Trudy shot with a box camera, and some folks say that it was this – the fact that her face was not concealed when she was shooting – that made it possible for her to establish such a warm and trusting connection with her subjects. I suspect it had more to do with Trudy herself.
Not too long ago I visited the home of Bob Goldberg, a Chicago schoolteacher who has amassed an extraordinary collection of Mexican art over the years – every school vacation he would take his station wagon south and pile it high with goods. It’s so extraordinary that he recently donated it all to the Field Museum, which responded with the appropriate gleeful enthusiasm to have it all.
Before it was received and cataloged by the Field he invited small groups into his home to see the collection – a traditional Chicago greystone, overflowing with the colors and textures and art of Mexico – it was on one of these visits that I saw, in a small hallway, what looked like Trudy’s photography. I asked Bob if they were. His face changed immediately – melting from one of the warm, if carefully distant host, to one of recognition, excitement, and loss. (Trudy, of course, passed away in 1993.)
“You know Trudy? You know her work?” And I told him how. He took me into the bedroom and showed me where more of her work was hanging, and then he pulled out several photo albums, sharing stories all the while, of his friend, Trudy, and her wonderful photographs.
The only place I know where you can view Trudy Blom's photography is at the La Casa Na Bolom itself, where the walls are covered with them -- and unfortunately I took too few photographs of those photographs.
 I need to double check Mr. Goldberg's name -- it might be Bill.