A portrait of personality: Photographer Tom Casalini captures individuality through photographs

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By James Feichtner

Individuality is the passion of a portrait; at least that is the belief of Zionsville photographer Tom Casalini. It is displayed not only through his website, but also in his work.

Casalini specializes in the field portrait photography, but unlike a standard photographer purely shooting to make subjects look aesthetically appealing, Casalini’s primary purpose is to capture his subject’s personality.

“It’s not about a likeness of them or it’s not about what somebody else thinks they should look like,” Casalini said. “That’s what makes them beautiful, because they are simply who they are whether it’s an individual or whether it’s a couple. They understand that it really is about them.”

In order to capture the true, personal nature of his subjects, Casalini says the key is to listen to his clients and gain their trust, which can be difficult at first.

“I’m a very good listener,” Casalini said. “That’s probably what I do best, because by listening, that gives me the opportunity to hear what they’re actually saying and not what they think they should be saying. It’s just the opposite when they come in at first. They tell me what they think I want to hear, and then once we get past that, then the trust level starts to increase.”

Casalini shoots his clients in black and white as opposed to color. The black and white effect adds a sentimental aspect to his work.

“I’ve been doing black-and-white now for the past 20 years,” he said. “I think the emotion is a little stronger in black and white. They become timeless in a sense that we don’t have to worry about fashion, we don’t have to worry about color. It takes away visual distraction.”

Picking portraits

Having a studio in Zionsville’s Village for more than four decades, Casalini has had the opportunity to build up quite a portfolio.

“My concentration has been wide throughout my career,” Casalini said. “I started out in portrait work, and then I migrated into commercial work. I was active in the commercial business for 25 years, and I had reps in Chicago, New York and L.A.”

After his 25 years in the commercial business, Casalini felt it time to move on to what he loved most – portrait photography.

“I really started to burn out on it, so I decided to slowly concentrate back on my portrait business,” Casalini said. “I had been spiritually asking for a project that I could work on that would redirect me back to my portrait work, and it came to a job I was asked to do here in Indianapolis.”

At the time, Indianapolis Power and Light was working to have Medal of Honor recipients as parade marshals. Casalini was working with a local advertising company to do a poster to honor the recipients at the Indianapolis 500.

“I pulled up in front of my studio, and I stopped to get out of my car and thought, ‘Here’s what I’ve been asking for. I’m going to go do portraits of the Medal of Honor recipients,’” Casalini said.

It was through his idea Casalini would come to create his first published book. The portraits he had hoped to capture of these veterans was not your average portrait. Casalini hoped to photograph not just the men with the medal, but the men behind the medal.

“For three years I traveled the country and photographed the Medal of Honor recipients. By looking at them as ordinary guys, I was interviewing them in a way that has not ever been done before in the Medal of Honor Society,” Casalini said. “It’s been a very successful book, and it’s helped change a lot of lives in a very positive way. It’s helped people open up because they’re not pictured in a military context and gave the reader an opportunity to see that they are just normal people.”

The book, titled Ordinary Heroes, led him to travel with the Speakers Bureau as a keynote speaker for nearly 10 years. Since then Casalini has gone on to create other impactful projects, such as Portraits of the Human Spirit, an exhibit on display at two St.Vincent hospitals.

Today, Casalini remains at his Zionsville studio continuing to do what he loves, which he says he will not be stopping anytime soon.

“Presently, I have a couple other projects,” Casalini said. “As my career moves forward I’m nowhere near retirement. I feel blessed to have an opportunity to tell more stories.”

Focusing on Zionsville

Growing up in Logansport, Casalini discovered Zionsville after his car broke down in town. After attending Indiana University and graduating from the New York School of Photography, Casalini spent some time in Atlanta, Ga. In 1973 he returned to Indiana and remembered the Town of Zionsville, where he eventually set up shop.

“I was looking at a space to open my studio in,” Casalini said. “Because I’m from a small town, I didn’t want to be in a place like Broad Ripple, that at that time was really popular. I really liked Zionsville and started looking for space.”


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