In the News!

Pulling out all the (F)stops for booming portrait studio

Written by Joan Lownds- The Wilton Bulletin

Wednesday, 25 May 2011 10:53

When Andrea Topalian was eight her parents gave her a Holly Hobbie camera and sealed her future. “I fell in love with photography,” said the Wiltonian, who recently received the international designation as a certifiedprofessional photographer (CPP). “I always knew I wanted to be a photographer.”

Ms. Topalian is one of only 2,000 photographers worldwide to achieve this certification, awarded by the Professional Photographic Certification Commission after a 100-question test on the technical aspects of photography. “It validates my professional skills,” said Ms. Topalian, who is also one of the few portrait photographers in the area to have her own home studio.

Spring is the busy time for Ms. Topalian, since the warm weather beckons people outdoors into the scenic vistas of Fairfield County. “People want to have portraits taken outside, and it is also time for Communions, graduations, Bar Mitzvahs and senior portraits for next year’s graduating classes,” she said.

Since starting her business in 2006, Ms. Topalian said she has taken portraits of more than 800 families — and the words “say cheese” are not part of her vernacular. “I go for natural expressions but also capture the moments between family members that shows their love,” said Ms. Topalian, a West Hartford native. “I look for connection, emotion, expression and storytelling,” she said. “When I photograph someone, I try to capture the essence of who they are.”

For example, in one of her portraits, two older boys hover in the background while a younger sister dominates the forefront. “You can see that she is the center of their world, said Ms. Topalian.

Another hallmark of her work is “digitally hand-painted backgrounds” that may match and blend with a home’s decor, along with custom frames from River Road gallery. “The portraits are works of art, not just a pretty picture,” she said.

In a portrait of her own children, Olivia, 7, Kylie, 6, and Derek, 3, they are running to greet her husband, Greg, across a hand-painted hillside at Ambler Farm.

The photography genes were in her blood, thanks to her grandfather, who made his living as a portrait photographer in Ukraine in the early 1900s, until he was arrested by the KGB and the family never saw him again, she said.

But his legacy lives through the granddaughter he never knew. “I think it was cool that my grandfather, who died way before I was born, made a living as a portrait photographer in the early 1900s,” she said. “It was not a common field to work in back in those days.”

Along with her family and newborn portraits, Ms. Topalian creates headshots for real estate agents, actors, and other professionals. She also photographs family and corporate events.

Since local families are so invested in photography these days, Ms. Topalian provides basic lessons, such as how to use the “manual settings on your camera.” She also offers tips such as how to use light. “Ideal times of day are early morning or late afternoon before the sun goes down,” she said. Also, she suggests patience. “Photographing your own children can be a challenge, but we are blessed to be in the digital world,” she said. “We aren’t limited to a roll of 24 or 36 images. Just keep shooting until you get those expressions that say, ‘That’s so him, or her.”


December 8, 2011

Good-Willed Wiltonians Raise Money With Santa

Combining efforts to organize a Santa Portrait Fundraiser, local business owners raise money for Wilton’s most needy families.

On the 22nd day before Christmas, some Wilton businesses gave to us, an amazing show of spirit for the community!

While that line may not have the melody or exact rhythm of the original Christmas carol, it certainly captures the harmony of a handful of local small business owners who together staged a holiday fundraiser for needy Wilton families. Their combined efforts on Dec. 3 for a “Santa Portrait Fundraiser,” raised more than $900 for the Wilton Interfaith Secret Santa Fund, part of Wilton Social Services.

The idea was sparked back in September—Megan Abrahamson, owner of Blue Star Bazaar was holding a trunk show at the popular Wilton café, Babycat Milkbar, and she was trying to brainstorm a holiday fundraiser with Babycat owner Jeena Choi.

In a moment of miraculous coincidence, into the shop walked Skip Heydt, with a very noticeable long white beard and mustache. The local Wilton businessman is a well-known Santa during holiday months when he’s not running his marketing firm, HEH associates, in the same Crossways shopping plaza.

“I said to him, ‘What’s with the facial hair?’” recounted Choi, laughing, “and then he said, ‘I’m Santa Skip, you know!’ and then I saw it, because he has white hair and twinkling blue eyes. ‘You’re right, you are Santa!’ So right then and there, I said to Megan, ‘Let’s do something here!’ Skip said, ‘I’ll gladly help.’ The light bulb kind of went off.”

Immediately on board was Andrea Topalian, a Wilton mom whose thriving photography and portraiture business, Moments by Andrea, is based in town. She donated her time and skills and New England Historical Connection donated the homey, fireside spot next to the Christmas tree for the photo shoot. Abrahamson and Choi each contributed a percentage of their respective sales proceeds on the day of the event, and Santa Skip donated his time as well.

Once the event was announced, the group was able to fill all available reservations slots in just two days, as more than 50 families were eager to get a special portrait of their children meeting Santa. Each participating family was asked to contribute to the fundraiser in return for a unique photographic memento.

“The response was overwhelming and that definitely speaks to the generosity of the community—they know there’s a need out there,” said Choi.

Cathy Pierce, director of social services for Wilton reiterated just how serious a situation it is, more than ever before.

“In Wilton we have more children and more families in need of help this year. With cutback in the federal programs, there’s more need in heating fuel assistance. The food pantry, the holiday program—the need is definitely greater this year, and we so appreciate this kind of community support,” said Pierce.

Choi said it was important to show that Wilton businesses are dedicated to the community.

“We realize how fortunate we are to be in business this year. So I think we all, without having to say it, thought the same thing—that we need to give back to our community to keep it going. We wanted to raise money for people very, very local, and it’s heartbreaking to hear that in a town like Wilton, there are children who can’t get their Christmas presents this year. It’s close to home, and that’s why we had to do something.”



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