Reuben Sallows (1855 - 1937) a native of Huron County, Ontario, was born and raised on a farm on the ninth Concession of Colborne Township. He was part of a large family - one of fifteen children. His father, James Sallows, who immigrated to Canada from Lincolnshire England in 1832, was originally married to Sarah Morris, with whom he raised nine children. In 1853, James married Sarah Jane Tiffen and together they had four children, the eldest being Reuben. In 1869, James then married his third wife, Sarah Styles, and together they reared two daughters.
Reuben was raised and worked on the family farm until 1876 when he travelled, in search of work, to the County seat of Goderich. It was here that he decided to sit for a photograph at the studio of R.R. Thompson, and was subsequently offered a job as a traveling representative canvassing the countryside selling photograph enlargements.
Two years later, Sallows was asked to consider learning the profession, being offered and accepting a three year apprenticeship in Thompson's studio. In 1881, Thompson sold the entire business to Sallows, writing about the transaction: "We expect to see Mr. Sallows work up a good business. He is full of energy and aims to give all those who favour him with a sitting time the utmost satisfaction."
At first, Sallows' photographic career paralleled that of most photographers of this period, specializing in formal portraits and cartes-de-visite, shot in elaborate studio settings. Early advertisements from this period however, reveal his entrepreneurial spirit as he expanded 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 from his Montreal Street studio.
Civic holiday weekend 1897 became the turning point in his career. He had planned to spend the day in a neighbouring town, but an appointment prevented it. Free in the afternoon, he drove his young daughter and one of her friends to the Point Farms summer resort, just north of Goderich. He posed them on a huge rock on the shores of Lake Huron. The picture, titled "Afar o'er the waters a sail I see! What are the tidings it brings to me?" was sent to a Rochester lithographic firm and they used it in their catalogue. He also successfully sold this same image to a number of publications including the Buffalo Express, the Toronto Globe, and the St. Louis and Canadian Photographer - Sallows had become a commercial photographer.
Besides building a substantial business, Sallows subscribed to professional trade journals, keeping informed of the great stylistic and technological changes occurring in photography. He was an active member in the Huron Photographers' and Canadian Photographers' Associations, capturing four prizes at the latter's convention held in London, Ontario, in 1897. Boasting that he was "one of these fellows who keeps abreast of the times," Sallows toured the countryside in 1889 with the "world renowned Pamphengos Dissolving View Apparatus," a form of magic lantern show.
For the next six years, Sallows kept taking photographs, adding to his outdoor studies. In 1903, a Philadelphia firm requested a collection of his photographs, and out of the twelve pictures sent, ten were accepted and he was paid $50. Sallows was amazed, writing: "Five dollars for each accepted print! Sixty dollars a dozen. For the same work at home my regular customers were paying me $6 per dozen. This was the first money I had ever received for any commercial work and it certainly 'woke' me up. I concluded that if the picture loving public valued my work so highly that they were willing to pay me $60 per dozen, I would be foolish to confine myself to portrait work alone."
Recognition for Sallows' commercial work had just begun and already he was being praised as " Canada 's Photographic Genius." His pictures of "domestic scenes, pictures of rural life, views of nature in her wildest and loveliest moods, hunting, fishing, boating, camping and outdoor pastimes" (Busy Man's Magazine, May 1909) were published extensively in numerous publications all over North America and Britain. The first illustrated picture magazines of the time published as many as twelve of his photographs in a single issue. Rod and Gun Magazine, then published in Woodstock, Ontario, included a number of his prints in their December 1912 issue.
Much of Sallows' commercial work was done for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Grand Trunk Railway, plus agencies of the Federal and Provincial Governments including the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture. In 1913, the federal Immigration Department engaged him to travel widely throughout Ontario, Quebec and to the Prairie Provinces to take promotional pictures.
During his three trips to western Canada for the Canadian Pacific Railway, he took some of the first recorded photographs of the Doukhobors, immigrants from Russia who settled in western Canada. According to an article written in 1941 by area author Harry J. Boyle, "the Doukhobors wanted nothing to do with the box that made the pictures, nor the man who operated it." Sallows apparently persisted - talking to them, playing with the children, and finally obtaining results, photographs of Doukhobor women standing beside their houses with mud and grass thatched roofs, as well as images of children working and playing.
By 1916, Sallows had amassed 6,000 six by eight inch "backed" prints and his career had hardly started. He took his camera out to the fields and farms, taking pictures of everyday people doing everyday things, capturing the full range of their activities - seeding, picking apples, cutting wood, harvesting, building barns and fences - all of these activities recorded in photographs, a priceless collection of yesterday's life.
Years before his death Sallows wrote: "I always strive to take people unawares, in their natural moods, at their common callings, or in familiar surroundings - all of which I find imparts natural and lifelike qualities to all my studies. The popular approval with which my work was received urged me to use all my efforts to place in my productions a mark of distinctive quality." This unorthodox idea that photographs should not be static made him one of the more celebrated photographers of his day.
Reuben R. Sallows married Flora McKinnon on August 23, 1882 in Goderich. Together they had three children: D.D. (Darius Doty), Florence (who married Charles Saunders) and Verna (married to Donald Burt). In 1917, the year after his wife died, he married Clara Bamford and they had one daughter, Nancy Jean (now Nancy Cooke).
In 1937, Reuben Sallows, on his way to take a photograph at a school camp on the lakeshore highway, was killed when his car overturned just south of Kintail. He was 82 years old.
During his sixty year career, his artistic skill was proudly heralded locally as "Sallowsgraphs" and recognized internationally, securing him a reputation for being a "photographic genius."