MERIDEN – In Marisa Balletti-Lavoie’s case, sassiness isn’t
necessarily a bad thing. The owner of Sassy Mouth Photography, she
recently was notified that she had been named to Connecticut
Magazine’s latest “40 under 40″ list of young leaders in the
“Last year we went to Target and I saw the 40 under 40 issue,”
said Balletti-Lavoie, 28, a lifelong Meriden resident. “I remember
holding it and telling TJ [her husband], ‘I’m going to be in this
next year.’ “
Many of her local friends call her a neighborhood celebrity
because she was born and raised and opened her photography studio
on Park Avenue, she said.
She got the name Sassy Mouth after her grandmother, Betty
Esposito, was playing on the Internet with a fake-name generator.
Her grandmother said it was a perfect fit for her business,
Sassiness is a friendly term in Balletti-Lavoie’s dictionary.
She tries to make the subjects of her photography as comfortable as
possible in order to catch them in their happiest moments. She
mingles at weddings, but attempts to be a “photo ninja” in order to
get the most candid shots.
“This is their wedding, they don’t care what wedding I was in
the day before, they don’t care what I have to do tomorrow,” she
said. “They are the most special thing to me, and I completely
involve myself with these people.”
Balletti-Lavoie is self-taught in nearly every aspect of her
business, from photography to studio set-up and the bookkeeping,
she said. She picked up most of her business knowledge while
managing retail stores, such as Avenue and Lane Bryant.
She has done a variety of other work, including plus-size
modeling, and tried unsuccessfully to sell a reality television
show about her life leading up to her wedding.
Sassy Mouth Photography has grown since its inception in 2007.
She did no-charge portfolio work until 2008, and her business has
expanded consistently since, especially after she opened her Park
Avenue studio called The Sassy Space in September 2010.
It’s an accurate name for the space. The studio is centered amid
a sea foam-green living room area with a white decorated mantel,
which is Balletti-Lavoie’s favorite part. There is also a typical
photo-shoot room, which is currently set-up with a Valentine’s Day
theme, as well as a black and white tiled kitchen and a small
playroom for children.
She photographed 40 weddings during the 2011 wedding season,
about double her 2010 total. She also does other lifestyle work,
such as engagement sessions, family studio sessions and model
“It’s working more than I ever could have imagined it would
work,” she said. “The way that it’s growing it makes people think
… ‘oh, that’s easy, I can do it,’ but it isn’t; it’s the hardest
thing in the world.”
The business never stops, she said. She works nearly every day
on something, whether it’s a photo-shoot, editing photos or
backing-up and organizing her material. Her husband, Thomas “TJ”
Lavoie, 34, is her assistant photographer and lighting technician
at events, and he also maintains her equipment. He is currently
working toward his bachelor’s degree in science and mechanical
engineering. Her sister and mother also help her maintain and
manage the studio and office.
Despite the rapid growth of her business, she said she doesn’t
take on more work until she feels she’s ready. For example, she
will be attending the Wedding Photography Association’s annual
tradeshow in Los Angeles for the first time this year. She’s now
getting ready to expand and hire additional photographers.
Balletti-Lavoie originally went to the University of Hartford to
study painting, but quickly realized it would be a difficult way to
make a living.
“It’s hard to sell a painting for $50 after you’ve put so much
time in it,” she said.
She said she is happy with her job and wouldn’t want to do
anything else at this time.
“I said, next year I’m going to win the lottery, but I think I
already kind of did. This job is pretty sweet,” she said.