Bob Soltys was born in Gary, Indiana in 1955. He began taking pictures when his aunts gave him a Kodak Instamatic camera for Christmas in 1967. The son of a steelworker who worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, Bob worked after school shelving books at the library, where he discovered The Eye of Eisenstaedt: How a Great Photographer Sees. That book inspired him to buy a 35mm camera and become a photojournalist.
On my other job as a newspaper carrier, I met the high school student who worked as a part-time photographer for the weekly paper, who happened to be dating the daughter of one of my paper route customers. That encounter opened my eyes to part time photography work.
My break into photojournalism came when seniors at my high school walked out to protest a teacher’s strike that would have prevented them from graduating. Of course I joined the marchers, taking photos along the way. The weekly paper bought my pictures, launching my photography career. Photojournalists David Kennerly, Jacques Lowe, Bill Epperidge – and more recently wedding photojournalist Steven E. Gross – influenced my work. Hanging around with other newspaper photographers eventually led to photographing weddings.
In 2003, I adopted Lucky, a Jack Russell Terrier who had been abandoned. While returning a book to the library, I noticed my four-legged friend radiating his sacred self in the backlight, and took the picture that would eventually become the cover of A Lucky Life. Meanwhile, I found more inspiration in Elliott Erwitt’s books Snaps and Personal Best with their humorous pictures of dogs and of life.
During the 2013 FotoFest Paris portfolio reviews, I showed Krzysztof Candrowicz of the Lódź Art Center a print of Lucky looking at the “no pets” sign. Laughing, Krzystof told me, “Go with it!”
Along with people’s reaction to Lucky posing in front of the billboard, that made me realize his pictures of Lucky could make people smile and that I should share them. “After all, the purpose of photography is to share and inspire feeling, and – at least for me – make others happy by sharing the joy.” And so the project began in earnest. Final inspiration for A Lucky Life came from Bill Allard’s books, which usually include the story behind Bill’s pictures.
My approach to photography has always been low key, whether photographing a wedding or capturing the art of living on the street. Using one lens, one camera, and one film – a 35mm 1.4 lens on a Leica M6TTL or M7 loaded with Kodak Tri-X film – helps me work quietly and unobtrusively in the existing light. Why Leica?
After missing a photo op comprising fifty guys wearing Santa suits as they drove motorcycles down suburban Cicero Avenue one Christmas season because my motorized SLR was at home, I bought a Leica rangefinder and a 35mm Summilux lens, which, to the joy – and sometimes consternation – of family and friends, I always carries with me, even at the veterinarian’s office, in restaurants, and church.
Bringing Lucky along as I traveled across America has brought smiles to many people while opening the doors for my camera and me. Good examples of this are the photo of the Amish boy, and the sales clerk in the chocolate store.
And there are the stories, like the 2009 stop in Woodstock New York on the 40th anniversary of the three music fest. Magnum photographer Dennis Stock, a dog lover, was speaking at the Center for Photography Woodstock (CPW) that evening. Dennis walked up to the lectern and said “Good evening everyone, and greetings to Lucky.”
I’m grateful to photographer Thorsten Overgaard for his available light work at night, and the fly on the wall approach that presidential photographers Jacques Lowe, David Kennerly, and Bob McNeely took to capturing great moments. “They taught me that if you keep your head up and look for interesting moments and light, the world is your photographic oyster.”
[userpro template=card user=bobsoltys ]