THE STORY OF HOW A WILD BIRD HELPED HEAL A FAMILY STARTED AS A CATALOGUE OF IMAGES DOCUMENTED ON INSTAGRAM. BUT SOON PHOTOGRAPHER CAMERON BLOOM’S REAL LIFE ADVENTURES WITH PENGUIN THE MAGPIE WILL BE IMMORTALISED ON FILM.
Whichever way you look at it the figures are sure to impress. One hundred and forty-six thousand: that’s the number of followers the Penguin the Magpie Instagram account has amassed since photographer Cameron Bloom debuted it in early 2015. Forty thousand-plus is the amount of books bearing Cameron’s byline that Australians have purchased since learning of the Bloom family’s unique story. Fourteen thousand is the number of images Cameron took to help document the incredible Penguin Bloom story in print. But the Penguin the Magpie story is not where the 45-year-old’s journey starts nor ends.
Cameron was first introduced to photography through his father who was always taking pictures but “never knew what he was doing”. When Cameron became a teenager the elder Bloom agreed to loan his waterproof Nikonos #1, which became his son’s first camera.
“I used it to take surfing shots of my buddies and ended up being published when I was about 16 winning a competition with a shot of a pro surfer at my local beach. My Dad bought me my first proper SLR – a Nikon FG20 when I was about 14. It had a standard 50mm lens”.
Both items ended up drowned in the ocean after what Cameron describes as a “badly designed” PVC pipe water housing experiment went belly up. “I contributed to surf magazines up until about 18 [before] realising that my passion was taking portraits.”
Eager to add technical proficiency to his arsenal, Cameron coincided enrolling in Sydney TAFE at 19 with working as an assistant for a commercial photographer in Sydney. Working solely with film at the time he was fortunate to receive his grounding in E6, C41 and EP2 developing and printing processes. At 20 he received his first paid commission when he was asked to take over as social photographer for Vogue Australia, kick starting his 12-year career as an event and PR photographer.
Almost three decades since becoming a professional shooter, Nikon remains his camera gear of choice with his list of equipment incorporating three Nikon D4 camera bodies, a Nikon D5 that he selects for all his commercial work and a Nikon D810 that he likes to use when shooting underwater. In addition he has an extensive list of lens options including the NIKKOR AF-S 35mm f/1.4G, NIKKOR AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, NIKKOR AF-S Zoom 28-70mm f/2.8D IF ED, NIKKOR AF-S Micro 105mm f/2.8G IF ED (1:1) VR, NIKKOR PC-E 24mm f/3.5D ED, NIKKOR PC-E Micro 85mm f/2.8D, NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, NIKKOR AF-S 400mm f/2.8E FL ED, NIKKOR AF DC 135mm f/2D and the NIKKOR AF-S 85mm f/1.4G.
Having launched his eponymous photography business some years ago, these days Cameron is something of an all-rounder, with his online portfolio boasting a healthy mixture of travel, corporate and wedding type images. However four years ago Cameron’s career was put on temporary hiatus when his wife Sam was left paralysed after suffering a near fatal fall on a family holiday in Thailand.
Upon learning his wife would never walk again, Cameron could only watch as Sam struggled with depression. Three months after her accident the family found a three-week-old magpie that had been tossed out of her nest. They took her home, called her Penguin and slowly but surely Penguin ingratiated herself into the Bloom family’s lives, helping them to cope with the aftermath of Sam’s accident.
Shortly after Cameron began documenting the bird’s interaction with his family in a series of Instagram posts. By March 2015 Australian media had learned of the Bloom family experience and the story went viral. Cameron says he fielded calls from correspondents as far afield as Russia and Japan all of whom published articles featuring his unique images of Penguin. It was surreal, Cameron says.
“…but no one knew the story about Sam and our collective pain at her recently becoming paralysed. To me this was an important story to tell and some how merge with Penguin’s. When I approached [best selling author and close friend] Bradley Trevor Greive (BTG) for advice on publishing a book, I never thought he would be interested. But after talking the project over with him he agreed [to help] and we formed a wonderful partnership.”
All told Cameron shot around 14,000 images, with just 90 making the final edit. To date the book, titled Penguin Bloom, has sold over 40,000 copies in Australia and has only recently been published in the UK, Japan, South Korea, and Germany. Next month it will be released across North America and Canada with ten percent of the total worldwide royalties being donated to leading spinal cure charities including SpinalCure Australia and Project Edge.
In most cases this generosity is matched by the pair’s publishing partners. “I think the book has resonated so well with people around the world because it has the ability to heal and capture peoples hearts – just like Penguin did ours,” Cameron says.
“The story is also true and at times brutally honest in its message. The book seems to have crossed over many genres, healing and inspiration, animals and photography. We never set out to write a love story but I think this is what we have ultimately ended up with. I’m happy with the success and joy it has bought many people.”
Last year the book caught the attention of Hollywood with actors/producers Naomi Watts, Emma Cooper, Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea agreeing to option the movie rights. Naomi, who is Australian, has agreed to play Sam while Cameron, Sam and BTG have also been named executive directors.
“We have an active roll in the direction, script and hopefully will participate as stills photographer during the making. However, we are not interested in creating a biography documentary – our story needs to be told in just under two hours so we will leave the pros to do what they do best and will be taking their advice along the way.”
As fate would have it the blooms now have two more magpies in their midst after adopting the pair after they too fell out of the same nest as Penguin. The new arrivals, called Puffin and Panda, have easily adapted to life in the Bloom household but remain free spirits coming and going as they please. Cameron has again begun documenting their journey.
See here to see the trailer of the Penguin Bloom book or to follow the Penguin the Magpie Instagram page click here. See here to view more of Cameron’s photography work and here to follow him on Instagram.
Words: Tracey Porter