By Danny Carrillo
East Los Angeles College Photography Professor Thomas Blum didn’t develop a strong interest in photography until his late 20’s.
“My first father-in-law was big into photography and it always fascinated me,” he says what got him in the photography direction. Then he made a trip to Yosemite with his first wife, to visit where Hansel Adams worked for best photography and “started taking pictures up there and it seemed cool,” he says with a laugh.
Blum likes photographing landscapes and cityscapes. Taking only pictures of family and friends for portraits. He is self-taught and he learned the different techniques of processing working in the lab. He took a 6-week course in a lab two times a week that perked his interest. “It really fascinated me,” Blum said.
He was in a different field and went on to open up his own lab, which he had for 30 years. During the time he had his own lab and business Blum taught in his lab at night for 15 years. Doug Kopinski, Department Chair at ELAC’s Photography Department gave him his chance to teach when someone was sick and needed someone to teach really fast. “He called me and asked me if I could cover that night,” Blum taught at ELAC in 2000, subbing for a color class for his first time. The department chair would call him sporadically when someone was out to cover.
Then he went into teaching black & white classes which he currently teaches at ELAC. Doug Kopinski, Guy Cloudy and some of his clients that specialized in different areas in photography mentored him through out time. “I always had an expert that I could talk to, a great process to learn from guys that where doing it out there.” Blum had a lot of help from different clients and had known who could solve his problems he encountered in photography.
His advice on no matter what you do, “this is some advice my mother gave me which has stuck with me all my life for some strange reason, if you got a job do it right and I think that follows almost everything you do,” Blum said. “You have to commit to it and go for it. If you do generally speaking it will work out, occasionally it does not but truth is if you do hard work consistently it will pay off,” he said. You have to work on your post-production skills to get better in photography.
Christian Arias, ELAC student, 2 years in photo department has taken Intermediate black and white (Photo 32). Arias said, “Tom, is one of my favorite professors, very knowledgeable and everything I know in film is because of him,” with a big smile.
He has inspired Arias and taught him all he knows. Arias wants to learn more cause of Blum’s teaching style. He has chosen Blum for his mentor as a bunch of students have. “If you are planning to take a Photo 10 class take it with him, he is very knowledgeable and he is easy to talk to, if you need some help he will help you out,” Arias says with much enthusiasm. “Blum takes some time to actually teach you and it is easy to understand.”
Dereck Andres Perez, a photography student at ELAC has taken 5 semesters in Photography. “He is the best professor I have taken so far, he is very patient and easy to understand,” Perez said with a smile. He shoots almost exclusively black and white film. Perez feels that because he has taken so many classes with Blum that it makes him more confident in black and white than he does with digital and color. He feels that intro students have more than enough supplies in the department but could use a condenser enlarger.
He has taken Blum for Directed Study’s and because of him, “I have learned that it does not have to be completely structured and you could do things different out of the box and it will still come out amazing.” He recommends students to take Photo 10 and Photo 32 with Blum. He would have preferred to had taken Photo 10 with him after seeing everything his students learn. Blum goes into detail but not to the point he scares you. “Tom is really cool and if you are starting I recommend to take him for Photo 10,” Perez said.
Monica Abitia, ELAC student said, “Tom made it more interesting, he taught us a lot and is not fast but gave a lot of one on one.” He still mentors her, and Blum has the heart and patience to teach she said. He is a great teacher and loves to teach different techniques to black and white. Abitia said, “the photo department can use better staff to improve the department but professor Tom can stay,” as a way to improve the department.
Blum said, “It makes me feel great and extremely flattered just totally blows my mind that people feel that way and I’m really happy if I am influencing people positively.” He still loves it and said, “ I love to teach,” then laughs. “I don’t know how else to say it,” with great excitement in his face. It makes him feel good.
Blum would like two things to happen at ELAC to make it better for students to get the best possible out of school. “I think we should have a video production section and in the still (Photography) we could provide some of the materials for the students so it wont be quite expensive for the students to buy paper especially for beginner students.” He feels the photo department has a lot of things for the students to use and nothing is missing to complete the department. He said, “maybe we could use another 8 x 10 camera but could be fine with out another one.”
The photo department does not have a Photo 5 class for the Spring 2014. A handful of students have said they need this course added since it is a requirement for some certificates and the Associates in Arts degree. I am not sure if funding is limited to which classes are given but there should be two semesters in a row without Photo 5. There has been rumors that it is in talks but no guarantees if it will be offered Spring 2014.
Blum’s misconception is that, “I’m shy,” said Tom laughing and I laugh with him. “I don’t believe that, Tom hides behind the camera,” I make a comment and he replies, “serious I am. I know it doesn’t seem like it at times.” He is more reserve than what we see in class. He really digs teaching and have no complains. Blum is always willing in mentoring students. You can find some of his work at www.darkroomworkshop.com.