Our continuing series: "Have you met...?"
Here is a chance to get to know some of your neighbors. These lovely folks are working in and around the community to make it a place they love.
Salls was born in Ohio and lived there primarily until he was 16. In 1963, when his father was transferred to his New York City office, the family moved to Weston. “I remember getting out of the car in Weston and thinking ‘I am home.’ And Connecticut is my home.
Salls is married to Georgina, a nurse anesthetist, and has a daughter named Georgina too. They’ve lived in Stratford since 1978. His interest in photography started in the 1960s when he worked at Klein’s of Westport, which has since closed.
EH: You are a photographer. So what did your parents say to you when you to them you wanted to be a photographer?
RS: I was always an artist, but in college, I was really good at partying. My parents had reach a saturation point (oversaturated) with me. They said if you want an education you are going to have to pay for it yourself. We are tired of paying for your partying. And so my wife, Georgie, and I moved to Santa Barbara and we paid for Brooks Institute of Photography.
(Before Brooks) I went to school in Kansas for a while. I was not what you call a model student … I did some time at Sacred Heart, UB, and then Georgie and I got married in 1970 and in 1971, we moved to California so I could go to Brooks Institute of Photography.
We appreciate school more when we pay for ourselves. My grandfather was a fine artist and art teacher in New York City and so it wasn’t totally alien to mother. My father was like third generation engineer. I have always had a very good understanding of mechanical things, but I have never had any desire to be an engineer.
EH: Kids get their photos taken every year at school. Seriously, these photos are like the most important pics that some families take. What can we do to make them better?
RS: More than school photos, what is important to do is family photos, family portraits. I stress to people that they have family portraits done. That is a record of your time together that you have. What you have is memories and a few pictures.
Seems like the only time we have a family portrait done is when someone’s died. Don’t wait for that.
I have that I can think of one picture of both my sisters and myself and our spouses and that was shot on a mountain top in California. And that was after we spread our parents’ ashes. I walked over and to someone and asked: “will you take our picture?” That I can think of, that is virtually the only family picture of the three of us together. Except maybe a few when we were kids.
EH: Are there very many photos of you? Who takes them?
RS: No. People take pictures of me periodically, probably one formal shot in the last 10 years. My wife took a picture of me recently in front of the mantle. I was dressed in a tux with a red tie and cummerbund to go shoot an event for Habitat for Humanity. It doesn’t bother me.
But by the same token I really try to encourage people to get portraits done. Don’t just wait till somebody has died. It’s an important record of history.
Do it in your home, in the studio, wherever you are comfortable. And if you are taking one of the family, include the pets too, because they are a part of your family.
EH: I’ve got some friends who are always covering their face in front of a camera. Are people truly “photogenic”?
RS: A lot of people will tell me – because I photograph the Chamber of Commerce events – “I don’t take good pictures!” I just tell them “That’s fine! I will take it, and you will just be in it!”
There do seem to be people you have got to fight to take a good picture of … not that they are resistant. I think some if it is internal. I think they feel uncomfortable with who they are. Some people are always posing.
With kids that is very typical. Some kids just must pose for the camera. I work at trying to get more unguarded moments. Try to get them the environment they are most comfortable.
There are other people that just their face just loves the camera. I always like to get people to smile, whether I am doing portrait or whatever,
People look better with a smile on their face. And it doesn’t matter if they are an attorney, banker or whatever. We all look better with a smile on our face.
EH: I really love to watch America’s Next Top Model. Seriously it’s an addiction. So, who is more important in a shoot like that: the photographer or the model?
RS: I think it’s the photographer. It is up to the photographer to get out the model everything that is these. I absolutely believe that if the model decides to be a pain, you you getting anything from then, then it’s all for nothing. But if that model is says OK If I want to work in this town again the model knows they have to be on. The photographer know he or she has to do get everything they can, the right expression, the right lighting. The bigger job is the photographer.
EH: So we have this “economic downturn.” Plus, like everyone now has digital cameras. Has all this affected your business, or do people still want their pictures taken professionally?
RS: Yes it has. People have to realize the value of it of a professionally done photograph.
I do enjoy it, because I like people. I like to talk and hear what they have to say. And if I connect with someone, their guard goes down a little bit.
The more that you talk with them, the better the pictures are. I know a lot of big name portrait photographers will spend an hour or two with subjects just talking and the cameras isn’t there. They just talk, establishing a communion.
This is a change for me. (Salls is the commercial photographer for Subway, for example) For years for I specialized in food and machinery-- that was a my area. I majored in industrial photography and minored in portraiture. It was easier to manipulate parts than people. I was more comfortable with food and machines than people.
And I just was pushed that way toward people. My wife said you shoot beautiful weddings, but it wasn’t in my comfort zone. As the economy has change – since 9/11- - the whole word has gone upside down. So that’s what pushed me to working more with people. And I love it.
EH: So you shoot wedding photos, of course. One question for you… Bridezillas… real or myth?
RS: They can be real. I am very old school and proud of it. When I go to a wedding I take anywhere from 400-600 pictures. There are people today who will shoot 1500-2000 pictures!
When I are taking a picture, I am immediately planning, opening myself to the next picture.
I started back with 120 film, with maybe 15 rolls of film. Each roll only took 12 pictures. You went with 180 pictures max and you better plan. You got EVERYTHING with that. Then we went to 35 mm you take10 rolls of film. You get 360 pictures. You have already doubled your capacity. But you still pay attention to what you are shooting and what it there. You have to plan, because if they are marching down the aisle, I don’t want to be on frame 11. I need fresh film in the camera. You have to be ready.
With digital you can just shoot, like a machine gun! But NOBODY wants to look at 2,000 pictures of your wedding!! They are not going to do that. You, as the photographer, have to edit it down to 300. Otherwise the couple’s eyes just glaze over.
If they are just throwaways, why did you take them? Don’t shoot 2,000 pictures. Shoot 500 that matter.
EH: If you could tell people one piece of advice for making themselves look better in a photograph, what would it be?
RS: Smile. Remember that you are having a good time.
During each "Have you met..." I ask our neighbors these same three questions.
EH: If you could be or do anything else, what would it be?
RS: When I was a lot younger, I wanted to race cars. Formula. Today I would be racing Vintage racers. I own a classic 1970 Volvo 1800. I am one of the founders of the Volvo Club of America. But I will be 65 in March, I still have a passion for what I do, so I really wouldn’t want to be anything else.
EH: What three words would your friends use to describe you?
RS: Probably just one: nuts! Um… Always with a smile.
EH: If you could change one thing about Stratford, what would it be?
RS: Oooofff… (Thinks for awhile) I was going to say stop trying to make politics a contact sport.
I am neither a Republican or a Democrat.. I just care about getting things done. Put politics aside and work for the good of the town.
I think there are people who are doing these things. I think that we really are trying to do that. I think there are also exceptions.
Having grown up in Ohio and lived in Weston, one of the things I like about Stratford it is a very real community. There are people with money, average people, and people with no money. That diversity is one of the things that makes this a good town.
Do you have a suggestion for a great subject for "Have you met...?" Let me know!