Elaine Blatt welcomes guests into her contemporary Ladue home with a warm smile and cup of frothy cappuccino. The day she welcomed me was particularly cold and snowy. She was busy packing for an upcoming photo journey, destined “to get out of the cold.” She also was completing work on From Field to Fork…The Plants We Eat, her photography exhibit opening March 15 (through May 31) in Monsanto Hall at the Missouri Botanical Garden. It the first time I have seen the petite and stylish redhead casually dressed without one of her signature hats atop her head.
Enamored with the world of couture and costume, the fashionista is more frequently seen donning one of more than 50 hats that make their home in closets throughout her home. On the floor, on high shelves and in closets overflowing with designer costumes purchased around the globe, hats are everywhere. It takes great restraint to refrain from asking for a tour of her hats. I’m here, after all, to see her photography and the 37 photography books she has self-published.
Blatt’s current exhibit is part of the Garden’s 2013 Year of Food. She speaks with passion about her travels and knowledge gained about food, both locally and abroad. “Visiting local markets is one of my favorite ways to observe people, see the neighborhood products and learn about their culture,” she says. “I have traveled the world observing how countries grow their food and get products to market.” She says that beyond providing basic nourishment, food connects us all. “Food can spark memories, inspire creativity, expand our horizons and bring us together,” she says.
Blatt’s exhibit is the product of many years spent learning about and photographing sustainable food. “When we were in Thailand, the pineapples were growing by the side of the road. I kept jumping out of the car to take pictures,” she says. The exhibit includes photos of barley in the Scottish Highlands, a vineyard in Champagne, enormous lemons in Italy, an olive grove in Greece and dragon fruit in Israel. The mushrooms in her exhibit are covered with dirt, and she refers to almonds hanging from trees as “furry green things” and a macro-shot of red cabbages as “art.” Many photos have been taken in French markets, where bunches of carrots and radishes revealed themselves as compelling subjects. Having been born and raised in St. Louis, Blatt is especially partial to photographing local produce: apples at Eckert’s, red peppers at Tower Grove Market and pumpkins at Rombachs Farm.
The wife of tax attorney Harold Blatt, mother of three and grandmother of three, Blatt says she discovered her calling in 1980 after participating in a workshop with Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park, Calif. “I came home, put in a darkroom and immersed myself in making black and white images,” she recalls. More than 30 years later, she continues to print most of her photos at home.
We tour a collection of 27-by-40-inch framed photographs displayed throughout the Blatt home. “We try to change the art every year or so,” she says as she moves to photos taken of the Eiffel Tower, of leopards in Africa, of outrageously dressed men at a Gay Pride Parade in Paris. (The latter is the signature piece she chose to reprint on her business cards.) Eight photographs of the Red Dunes in Namibia, Africa, look more like paintings than photography. “This was a rigorous trip. The area is very remote and difficult to reach,” she explains.
Trained to teach school, Blatt taught college English for many years. She worked three years as a portrait photographer with the St. Louis Symphony for the rotogravure section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Today, her photography is displayed in public and private collections around the world.
Elaine Blatt was reared in University City as the only daughter in a home with three brothers (Ronald, Robert and the late Larry Greenberg). She says that her mother fostered her love of art. “My mother and grandmother were fashion-forward. My mother always wore hats, and I am certain I got my love of hats from her,” she says, pointing to a stylish black felt hat. “I put the feathers on myself.”
When Blatt’s exhibit opens this weekend at Missouri Botanical Garden, look for her. She’ll be wearing a hat.
From Field to Fork…The Plants We Eat
Photographs by Elaine Blatt
March 15 through May 31
Monsanto Hall, Missouri Botanical Garden