KV Imagery a click away

Karen Danner
Happy: Kara Vonk holds her daughter, Macy, at KV Imagery at 939 N. Second St., which celebrates a grand opening Friday.

Fundraising for prizes hits most families with children in school, no matter what the kids’ ages.

But a prize earned at the age of 9 has led Kara Vonk to an unplanned career move.

Armed with her new camera, the youngster snapped shots of her stuffed animals, which she had posed in small groups.

Today, Vonk uses her modern digital equipment to record memories of both children and adults at KV Imagery in downtown Chillicothe.

From 4 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Vonk will welcome visitors to her business at 939 N. Second St.

There also to greet people will be her husband, Chad, and her 2-year-old daughter, Macy.

Although Vonk set up her first picture studio in her own home, she has outgrown the space and is ready to reach farther into the community and expand her customer base.

Getting the picture

As a stay-at-home mom, Vonk started taking photographs of people at her home on Wilson Street. After the couple’s move to Cedar Hills Estates, Vonk shot in the dining room for about six months while the home’s basement was completed.

As word spread of the quality of her work, business boomed and Vonk once again struggled to find space for her creativity.

“The house seems to be busting at the seams,” said Vonk. “This place became available, and I seized the opportunity.”

Vonk purchased the former Town Gallery in early July, and work on it has continued since.

Outside is a repainted front in chocolate brown and green, with a new awning arriving in time for the opening, Vonk said. “I ordered it before I even owned the building.”

The inside has all new paint, and with the addition of a partitioned wall near the front, a reception area has been created. There is a newly remodeled bathroom.

Painted in tan and green, the reception room, as well as the entire studio, boasts cherry merbau laminate floors, adding a richness to the look. The walls will fill with pictures of past clients, framed also by Vonk.

Just beyond the reception room is the shooting room. Vonk will line the huge walls with countless backdrops for all the types of photos she takes – newborns to children, families, high school seniors, maternity and weddings.

Vonk offers some costumes for children to try in the changing room, like tutus, fairy items and angel wings, and she also shoots photographs outdoors.

“I try to get the kids engaged and make them comfortable,” said Vonk. “I take my time and let the session go at the pace the kid wants to go. Sometimes we even play games.”

Following the grand opening Friday, Vonk said the Christmas photography session kicks in.

“I offer special sessions with a special designed Christmas setting,” said Vonk. “This year’s is a sea of evergreen trees and a sprinkling of berries. There’ll be snow in it, too. I’ll debut it at the opening and have special signups and pricing for it.”

Vonk also offers Christmas cards for the holiday season, but even with the flood of customers she anticipates, her philosophy required her to take some time to get the best product.

“I don’t believe in 15-minute sessions, where you plop the kid in front of a backdrop and say cheese, take a few pictures and you’re done,” said Vonk. “What I want to do is interact and engage with the child and capture the true essence of their personality. Instead of just the people sitting there, I want more. I want the feeling, the emotion and a connection.”

She also offered framing for her own works, including a wide variety of finishings and mountings.

“One of my favorites is a metallic finish on a photo,” said Vonk. “It’s a very shiny finish that almost looks like glass over the picture.”

She even has canvas and various traditional and modern albums available, as well as jewelry, photo handbags and pillows, “They make neat gifts for grandparents,” said Vonk, and DVD slide shows for the computer.

In the middle of the expansive business is the viewing room, where customers come to select the pictures they would like.

A huge 70-by-70-inch projection screen fills with the faces of loved ones, and Vonk offers both package pricing and a la carte ordering. She even has online ordering available.

The room near the back of the business will eventually be used as the shooting room, said Vonk.

The back of the area will be used mainly for storage, packaging and as a framing area.

Furniture is on the way, and finally, Vonk’s dream is about to become a reality.

“Everything is coming to a head right now,” she said.  “I’m excited. I’m ready to get going.”

Capture a feeling

After growing up in Bourbonnais, Vonk graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.

A one-year stint at an aerospace research and design company in Maine left her longing for the Midwest.

“I missed the Midwest,” said Vonk. “So I came back home and started working at Caterpillar Inc. in logistics.”

Then a Peoria resident, Vonk met her future husband, Chad Vonk of Chillicothe, at work. They married in 2002, and Chad is now a logistics consultant at Caterpillar.

About three years later, their daughter, Macy, joined them.

Vonk’s photography business originated with taking photos of her daughter, but as more and more people found out about her talents, it took off full steam ahead.

“It kind of blossomed from there,” she said. “Part-time turned into extremely full-time. I expected it to be kind of casual and not more of a business. But I love it. It’s so much fun. I get all these cute little models.”

Even though her client base is widespread in the Chillicothe area, Vonk said not even half of her customers are local.

“They come from Peoria, Dunlap, St. Louis, Washington, Metamora, East Peoria, Morton,” said Vonk.

Vonk said her first love was landscape photography, but her talents grew as she took up a new film camera and learned darkroom techniques.

She took classes at various times, but she permanently switched to digital after the birth of her daughter.

The grand opening will showcase KV Imagery, complete with face painting by a Bloomington woman who is well-known for doing animal faces. There will be hors d’oeuvres and door prizes.

Vonk works by appointment only, and weekend sessions are slightly more expensive than weekdays. She is available by calling 648-7019.

She hosts a fundraiser each year for the American Cancer Society through Relay For Life.

“I like the thought of staying here in the community and keeping arts in the community and keeping Second Street alive,” said Vonk.

“I would like to see Second Street improved more and keep the historical theme. I’d love for this to be a place out-of-town people would like to come to.”