If you’ve ever developed a roll of film only to discover blurry, dark, or nearly unrecognizable photos, you’ve probably envied the talent involved in taking good photos. Morton photographer Vicki Taufer knows how to take good photos—make that incredible photos. And in this profile, she tells us how a small town girl from central Illinois grew into a celebrated photographer garnering kudos from around the world.
It may be a surprise to her fans to learn that Vicki Taufer, who’s taken top prizes at some of the world’s most prestigious photography competitions, has a special education degree and has lived in Morton all of her life. She credits her family with helping shape her lifelong passion for photography. “My family has a history in art; even my great-grandfather was an artist. My mother was the ‘picture lady’ in grade school who came to our classroom and taught art history. She was always painting or creating something artistic.”
She started her college career as an art major, focusing on drawing and painting. “I had no idea what I was going to do with my education, but I knew I wanted to be an artist. Back then, I never even considered starting or owning a photography studio. I took one beginning photography class my sophomore year of college, and my dad built me a tiny darkroom in the basement bathroom closet. I continued my hobby by photographing friends and family and developing the images in my basement.”
Taufer came from a family of teachers, as well as artists, and she said pursuing an education degree seemed a safer choice. Though she never got to use her degree—her photography career took off soon after she completed school—she’s putting her education to use in a different way. “I’m using the teaching background by traveling around the country—and even the world—teaching other photographers,” she said.
After she and her husband, Jed, were married, Taufer said they found her “hobby” was taking up all of her time, and more and more people were interested in her work. “It snowballed from there. We built a small studio in our basement, and within a year, we moved to a custom-built, 3,500-square-foot studio on Main Street in Morton. After leasing the studio for five years, we bought the building in 2006 and acquired more space, bringing the studio to 6,500 square feet. The whole thing has happened really fast and continues to grow each year,” she said.
V Gallery is a portrait studio focusing on children and families, high school seniors, and weddings. But what separates V Gallery from the masses—in addition to the amazing photos that result—is the experience clients have. “Besides being able to create unique and beautiful images, we offer many unique products and framing options. In addition to a traditional wall portrait, a client can have her images printed on a piece of marble, in a coffee-table book, or made into a custom handbag or piece of jewelry. As an artist, my goal is to have fun during the photo session. This shows through the natural, fun images I’m able to capture when interacting with my clients.”
V Gallery also offers original artwork for sale. “Photography has been taking us around the world, and I’ve been able to document our travels through my photography,” Taufer said. “This artwork can be purchased not only at our gallery, but other local stores and boutiques like The Bronze Frog in Peoria. We have samples of our original art on our web site, including images of flowers, New York City, Korea, Italy, and the Philippines.”
Much of this travel has been in conjunction with competitions and conferences where Taufer has been recognized for her skills. “We’ve won numerous awards the past couple years,” she acknowledged. “We just became sponsored by Kodak and recognized as one of the up-and-coming photographers in the country. This year, I also received high honors in Austin at the Professional Photographers of America. I received my Certification, Master, and Craftsman degrees, as well as being named as a Silver Photographer of the Year. I won the highest-scoring print last year in Italy, so they brought me over to teach this year.”
But before the accolades comes the inspiration for the photos, which Taufer said appears from a variety of sources. “I love looking through magazines and following the fashions and trends to get ideas. But the most important thing when photographing people is to create a connection with my clients. Everyone who comes to the studio has a reason for being there—whether it’s a new birth, a graduation, or someone wanting to capture a special relationship. Everyone has a story to share, and I love to listen.”
Choosing to spread their success around, Taufer said the philosophy at V Gallery always has been to give back to the community. “Organizations we’ve worked with include St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Kids Konnected, and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. We recently made a $25,000 artwork donation—of babies and families—to the OSF Saint Francis Medical Center Maternity Ward. V Gallery also creates and hosts events in the community, including Girl’s Night Out, an event for women to shop local boutiques and raise money for a charity; Creartive, a high school art show where we give more than $4,000 in scholarships to students and their schools; and a fashion show for high school students where we bring the latest fashions and trends from Los Angeles to Illinois.”
Taufer’s advice for other artists wondering whether to make their lifelong hobby a career? “Follow your heart. Some days I just can’t believe what’s happened to me over the past six years. I’m only 30 years old, and I own a business doing something I love. I’ve been able to travel the world and make beautiful images for people to cherish forever. I believe if you follow your passion, people will recognize it, and you can make it your career. It’ll have its ups and downs and be a lot of work and a lot of hours, but everyone who owns their own business will tell you to expect that.”
She said what she loves most about her career are the lifetime memories she creates for people. “Often, clients will cry with joy as they see their images for the first time.”
The most challenging aspect is the actual running of the business—including the balancing act with her husband/business partner, she said. “My husband always says that when you work with your spouse, the shoulder for you to cry on is attached to the neck you want to wring. But then when something great happens, the victories are that much sweeter because you share them with the one you love.”
With the foundation of her high-profile career firmly in place, Taufer has turned her eye to the future, with plans to renovate the new building space they acquired this year and add more gardens to their house, which is two blocks from the studio—and a great location to photograph clients. “I also hope to continue to travel and teach photographers. It’s so rewarding to be recognized by your peers and be able to help them with their own businesses.”