In the Business – 1880s
By February of 1881, Sallows had taken ownership of R.R. Thompson’s studio. In a letter to The Goderich Signal announcing his departure to Dakota, Mr. Thompson wrote: “We expect to see Mr. Sallows work up a good business here. He is full of energy and aims to give all who favour him with a sitting time the utmost satisfaction”.
That same week, Sallows advertised that he would please his customers with “the best light, best prices, best accessories, best customers, best pictures, best satisfaction, best everything.”
By 1881, there were five photographic studios in the County of Huron, including that of Reuben Sallows, located on the corner of Montreal Street and The Square, in Goderich. At first, Sallows’ career closely paralleled that of other small-town photographers of the time, specializing in formal portraits. He advertised often in local publications, expanding his services to include “studio shots, family shots, shoots of views around Goderich, picnics” plus Christmas photographs.
Regarded as one who “kept abreast of the times,” he joined both the Huron Photographers’ and Canadian Photographers Associations and experimented with new photographic advances including stereoscopic views, flash light photography and enlargements. Advertisements from the mid-1880s reveal his entrepreneurial spirit as he continued to expand his trade to include pastoral photography, stereoscopic images of the local area, plus the introduction of a series of photocard “Views of Goderich & Vicinity,” in addition to the sale of supplies, enlargements and copies.
Recognition for his “photographic genius” was locally acknowledged early in his career when The Goderich Signal reported in 1883 that “Sallows, the photographer, is getting a wide reputation for his stylist works.”
Until 1887, Sallows was known professionally as R. Sallows. In this year, a second initial “R” began to appear in the photographer’s local advertisements and on his photographic cards. While Sallows did not carry a second name at birth, it has been surmised that the addition of the second R. was perhaps an indication of the legacy which he now carried on in the studio of his predecessor, R. R. Thompson. Or perhaps it was simply an addition to the name of a man who was beginning to carve out a reputation in the photographic industry.
Sallows’ response to a questionnaire issued in 1887 from The Philadelphia Photographer reveals the nature of the equipment used during this period of his career. He states that his largest plates were 8x10 and were used for family portraits, most of which were taken outdoors. He shot using 5x7 and 8x10 plates, and a heavy Graphlex camera weighing more than 10 pounds that required a tripod and long exposure times often in excess of 20 seconds. His customers preferred bromide enlargements and his own stock of negatives was a constant source of income. In writing about his techniques he reveals that early film was insensitive to anything but blue light, which meant that colours such as red and orange came out very dark in the monochrome print (i.e. his black pumpkins) and that light colours, such as sky, had to be touched up in the studio because of overexposure.
Along with a busy career in the studio, Sallows played an active role in the community in which he worked and lived – one whose sharp sense of humour was well known. “Gentlemen”, he writes to The Goderich Signal in 1887, “It is entirely useless to persist in urging me to run for Mayor of Goderich for 1888. I can far better serve the town by turning out first-class photos than by holding public office. Your obedient servant, R.R. Sallows”.
In March, 1889, The Goderich Signal published an “Illustrated Supplement” which, along with a number of his photographs, featured an article about Sallows’ business. The article stated that he had renovated his studio, bought all updated equipment and that Thomas Brophy, who had worked for Sallows since the early part of the decade, had control of the finishing department. In this same year Sallows toured the countryside with the “world renowned Pamphengos Dissolving View Apparatus” (a type of magic lantern slide show).
By the end of the decade, Sallows had introduced flash photography to his studio and expanded his retail business to include framing and stereoscopic views. The success of Sallows’ local studio was certainly well established in the community.