Ron Stewart retires from portrait studio
By Romi Herron For The Beacon-News March 18, 2013 2:56PM
Ron Stewart of Aurora has photographed thousands of families in his 47-year career. He's moving to Florida for retirement. | Submitted
Updated: April 22, 2013 10:14AM
AURORA — Ron Stewart, of Aurora, has photographed thousands of families in his 47-year career. As he prepares for his upcoming move to Florida, where he’ll retire, Stewart recently sifted through some of his favorite — and most memorable — portraits from a career that earned him world recognition.
“I’ve done their portrait every year for 24 years,” says Stewart, as he nods to a picture of two golden-haired youngsters dressed in fresh all-white outfits, admiring their newborn sibling in a cradle, illuminated by natural light. Since then, those children have all grown up, he adds, sharing highlights of their academic and athletic achievements.
“I also have another client whose family portrait I shot 55 times.”
But it’s illness, Stewart says, that’s brought his professional career to retirement. Now in his 70s, Stewart says he didn’t plan it this way.
“I didn’t know I was getting old until the last few years. I always thought I’d keep going” he said, looking at stacks of family portraits placed along walls of his Downer Place studio/residence, awaiting packing or another fate. “I guess I’ll have to throw ’em out, I don’t know what else to do.”
Some of it he’s donated to area fundraisers for auctions. He has stories for each picture, and special memories of many of the people in them.
“The baby in that picture played football two years ago at Notre Dame,” he says, recalling times when he’s been approached by people whose portrait he captured as children years before. “One time I was walking on Michigan Avenue (in Chicago) and someone said, ‘Mr. Stewart, is that you? ... But those days are over now.”
He shot his last session in early March and said his work has always been about quality, even though profit margins are found in “the cheapest pictures.”
“Our pictures were all custom, handmade,” he said. “I had assistants. We did all kind of hand artwork.”
At one time, Ron Stewart Portraiture had a staff of 25.
“That was when we did 7,000 sessions per year,” he said, noting that included “1,000 regular customers and 6,000 high school seniors.”
With the onset of digital photography, the general public is largely accustomed to looking at pictures that have been manipulated with special effects.
“With digital ... nobody has any idea what a good picture is,” Stewart says, explaining his studio went digital about seven years ago.
Stewart says technique and rapport are key. “Expression is most important. Composition is very important. And lighting,” he says.
His own method is to avoid an overly used command.
“I never use the word ‘smile,’” he says. “I just keep talking to them and carry on a conversation, and it goes anywhere. It relaxes people, and I say, ‘just be yourself.’”
Stewart emphasizes posed smiles are not the goal.
“If I see that they are faking that smile,” he says, “I tell them ‘you’ll ruin the picture.”
The award Stewart is most proud of was for his work in the category of “portraiture,” and was presented to him in 1996 at the Parliament building by British Institute of Professional Photography. He has a handful of medals and countless plaques that represent other achievements.
Stewart also owned an art gallery for 30 years in downtown Wheaton and said, at one time, he had three studios in operation. Working more than 100 hours per week on occasion, he’s now concerned that his health has suffered. His retirement, he insists, will be about relaxing with his wife, Paulette.
“I’m just going to do nothing,” he said. “I’m so used to working so much. I’ve always been a perfectionist.”