Tom Casalini: A portrait of 40 years on Main Street

By by Janelle Moorison

Tom Casalini, photographer and owner of Casalini Portraits, opened his studio in late summer of 1973. His original location was above Laurie-Landis Ltd. and the Green Apple Restaurant, currently the Cobblestone Grill. Casalini believed that Zionsville was the right place to open his first studio and unbeknownst to him, it would be the starting place of his illustrious 40-year career. “I moved to Zionsville from Logansport because I wanted the small town feeling,” Casalini said. “I looked at spaces in Indianapolis and I just didn’t feel that any of them were right for me, so I approached the people who owned the Laurie-Landis building at the time, and inquired about the space upstairs. I had a little reception area, a large room for my studio, a dark room and that was it. It was a pretty functional space.”

Five years later, Casalini came back from a vacation to learn that the building had been sold and that he would need to find a new studio location. He immediately started looking at available spaces around town and found his current location at 10 1/2 North Main Street, where he has been for 35 years.

Prior to the opening of The Fashion Mall at Keystone at the Crossing, a popular shopping complex located on the north side of Indianapolis, the town of Zionsville was the place to go for high-end boutique shopping, eclectic art galleries and unique restaurants. “Zionsville was absolutely phenomenal back then,” Casalini recalled. “The mix of retail stores that we had here was amazing. We had a hardware and a grocery store on Main Street. There were great little restaurants and artists everywhere. The community energy here was incredible.”

Popular retailers and restaurants brought in the necessary traffic to support the local artists and galleries. “Laurie-Landis had merchandise that was extremely unique to Indianapolis. They were a driving force to the clientele that came into Zionsville, a very high-end clientele. Everything in town was done at a really high level and the result was that it brought in traffic. That certainly helped build businesses here.”

There was a good mix of incomes and ages from a residential demographic standpoint that supported the local businesses and restaurants. Casalini pointed out that the “village” of Zionsville had a different energy back then. “In my 40 years of experience, what is transpiring now in downtown Zionsville is the closest that the ‘village’ has been to the energy of the early 1970s through the early 1980s.”

Over the years, Casalini continued to grow his portfolio and clientele to a national level while maintaining his portraiture work and local business from his studio in Zionsville.

Early in his career, he worked solely with color portraits. He transitioned for a period of time from fine art portraiture and began working on the commercial side of photography taking on corporate projects. He developed his techniques and specialized in lifestyle photography working with commercial reps in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles, focusing on national consumer advertising for the next 25 years.

At this point in his career, Casalini wanted to have a process of giving back to the community. He came up with an idea of photographing famous Hoosiers and telling their stories through his craft. He found a printing company that sponsored a limited edition series of posters featuring his “Famous Hoosiers” series. The benefactor then, was the Indiana State Museum, who sold the signed posters at their gift shop to help raise funds for the construction of their current location.

Whether working on commercial, philanthropic or personal works, Casalini has maintained the integrity of his portraiture process. He has refrained from following trendy poses and backdrops. He strictly focuses on the individuality of his clients. “My work has matured more as I have matured within the craft,” Casalini explained. I have always been extremely respectful of the craft of creating a portrait. I’ve never followed trends in the portrait business. I’ve always looked at myself as a fine art portrait artist.”

He takes his portraiture work seriously. He believes that it gives his clients an opportunity to reflect on who they really are. He helps them to express themselves internally through his process. “Through conversation, prior to having their portrait made, we build trust and within that trust is where the honesty of the subject and my work blend together”, Casalini said. “For me, it brings me great joy to help them find the beauty within themselves by virtue of my profession.”

In 1999, Casalini was looking to take a sabbatical when he was asked to create a commemorative poster for the Indianapolis Power and Light Company. IPL had invited several Medal of Honor recipients to serve as 2000 Indy 500 Parade marshals. Casalini took a strong interest in the recipients and their stories. Three years later, he published, “Ordinary Heroes”, a black and white portrait collection of living recipients from all over the nation. Rekindling his passion for portraiture work, he stopped doing color work and resigned from national commercial assignments.

Following his book, Casalini launched his “Indiana Artist Series” that would travel from his satellite gallery located at The Fashion Mall, to various locations throughout Indiana. This exhibit featured 17 local artists’ statements and their art. It became an educational exhibit and a crammed art appreciation course for school and college age students from across Indiana. In the last five years, Casalini has expanded his fine art series using his latest proprietary technique. Using aluminum and saturated colors, the subjects in this series are based on places and objects that he is passionate about. Scenes from Europe and Italy are tributes to the love of his Italian heritage and scenes from across the Unites States pay homage to his native country.

When asked how he plans to celebrate his anniversary, Casalini unveiled the special event that will take place honoring more than his anniversary but the heroes, artists and Hoosiers that he has worked with throughout his career. “I’ve been really blessed and wanted to express my gratitude to my clients and colleagues of the last 40 years so I reached out to the St. Vincent Foundation and asked them if there was a way that we could partner together in a community give-back project. The Foundation replied and together we will be hosting a fundraiser for The St. Vincent House. The House will be a home away from home for parents and families with children and for transplant patients at the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital and St. Vincent Hospital.”

The event will take place this November and will feature from the “Famous Hoosiers” series, Joyce DeWitt of television’s “Three’s Company”, who will be the mistress of ceremonies. Representing the “Ordinary Heroes” series, Medal of Honor recipients, Gary Latrell from Florida and Sammy Davis from Indiana will be in attendance. Mr. Davis is the only living MOH recipient in Indiana. 12 artists from Casalini’s “Indiana Artist Series” will donate their art for auction. The proceeds raised from this event will go to the St. Vincent House.

Casalini Portraits
10 1/2 North Main Street
Zionsville, IN 46077

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