Sarah Bloom has spent many hours in abandoned buildings – nude.
“People are like, ‘Do you have your tetanus shot?’” Bloom said, laughing.
A Narberth. Pa., native, Bloom, 44, has been photographing nude self-portraits in abandoned establishments in Philadelphia since 2007, but it wasn’t until less than a year ago that she started utilizing a new object in her photos to drape herself in: long plastic bags.
The use of plastic bags was both a different take on her nude self-portraits and commentary on how she was beginning to feel within society in her ‘40s: “Discarded,” which is also the name of the series.
Now, Bloom is involved in daily photo projects she finds on Flickr, but she said she didn’t always know that photography was her passion.
“When I went to Syracuse [University], I basically got way off track for a long time,” Bloom said. “I feel now like I always was looking for ways in which to be creative, but never really found anything that fit exactly right.”
But photography proved to be the perfect outlet – a push toward digital helped her get started in 2005, when she bought her first Canon Rebel SLR.
“I was shooting with a point-and-shoot type camera at gatherings and whatnot, but people were always saying, ‘Oh, you have a good eye,’” Bloom said.
Eventually, she started to join Flickr groups to encourage her. Flickr itself is a form of expression she found interesting, she said, and getting immediate feedback on her photos encouraged her to stick with it.
When Bloom was invited to join a Flickr group revolved around taking a different self-portrait every day for a year, she thought it would interest her for a few days, but never would have guessed how much she’d enjoy it.
“I figured I’d last a week, honestly,” Bloom said. “I just joined it on a whim and was like, this will last a week, tops. But I got really into it. It just clicked… as lame as that is.”
Now, with her ongoing series, “Discarded,” although not daily, Bloom has shot in a dozen or so abandoned locations throughout Philadelphia. The city is historic, raw and gritty, she said, which feeds into her intentions behind the photographs.
Bloom said these self-portraits within “Discarded” are significant in terms of her age and how she feels as a woman.
“Entering into the ‘40s and feeling still unsure about so many things and feeling that sense of running out of time – I mean, I’ve always kind of felt that way,” Bloom said. “But it intensifies at this age, and it’s just a really weird age to be in, especially as a woman, and the way society treats women at this age.”
Bloom said her favorite experience within the “Discarded” series so far was at an abandoned factory in Philadelphia.
“I was just so happy with that first shot,” Bloom said.
This particular photograph, titled “Essentially Discarded,” shows the back of Bloom, collapsed in the fetal position on a filthy, glass-covered floor. “Starting the series with that… I just felt like, ‘Oh, I’m onto something. I like this direction.’”
Once she enters an abandoned building, Bloom scopes out specific locations within it – most importantly, where there is good natural lighting, because she doesn’t bring any lighting equipment along with her.
Whether with her daily self-portraits or for “Discarded,” Bloom said she wishes to grapple with themes of identity through photography.
“There are advantages to having someone model for you, obviously, because you’re looking through the camera the whole time – you can say, ‘move your leg lower,’ or whatever,” Bloom said. “But I think the process of posing, for me, and seeing what I get, is something that I also get a lot out of – seeing myself in different ways. I’m also just fascinated by the notion of identity and how we present ourselves and what people see. No matter how we present ourselves, people see something different.”
Kerri Ann Raimo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.