WILLIAMSTOWN -- As an owner of Bella Baby Photography, Kevin Kennefick of Williamstown builds teams of high-quality professional photographers and sends them to hospitals to capture the magical moments in maternity wards.
Baby Bella Photography is located at 283 Cole Ave. - one of the two buildings that housed the former Women's Exchange for half a decade before it permanently closed in 2011.
In the renovated, redecorated space, a sculpture of a vintage tripod camera stands in the entry hall.
Kennefick's interest in photography took root when he was a youngster living in Chicago. "My mother bought a camera and I started using it when I was a teenager. I got my first camera when I went to college (Boston University)," said Kennefick, who is now 20 years into his photography career.
During his college years, Kennefick worked "every printing job," he said. "I realized soon there is only so much you can make in printing. The next thing to do was learn commercial photography. I took a class in studio lighting."
Around that time, Sue Killam of Williamstown - also a student at Boston University - told Kennefick about her plans for the future. "My girlfriend - my future wife - said, ‘I'm going to law school in Philadelphia. What are you doing?'" Kennefick recalled. The couple moved to Philadelphia after graduating in 1989.
"The economy was very bad," Kennifck said.
He left that job when the owner of Impact Studio, which was a big "hot" studio in Philadelphia and had the first digital account in the country, hired him to be the studio manager.
All went well for several years and then "Impact lost their biggest account on the day before my girlfriend graduated," Kennefick said. "We decided to go to Williamstown. We loved Williamstown. We used to go there together to get away from the city. But we knew moving to Williamstown was a long shot. We didn't know if we would have money to live on."
In Williamstown, the couple looked for work while living with Killam's parents. "I bought used camera equipment from a guy in Albany," Kennefick said. "Then I went knocking on every door within a 50-mile radius to get commercial work. I found that established companies were shipping their goods, such as chandeliers, to Boston [to be photographed for advertisements, etc.]. I built a nice business with clients such as Storey Publishing, the colleges and the museums. I did catalogues for Crane's [Crane & Company] for 18 years," Kennefick said.
After living with the Killams for a few years, the couple bought a house that had belonged to the superintendent of a neighboring mill (owned by Photech in the 1980s). Kennefick converted the stable in back into a studio.
Kennefick worked as a commercial photographer for 18 years, and then closed the business because he had too much work with Bella Baby.
Bella Baby Photography was founded by Kelly Billington about six years ago. "Moms were surprised at how beautiful Kelly's photos of their new babies were," Kennefick said. "Until then hospital photos of newborns were like ‘baby mug shots.'"
Within a year and a half, Billington had contracts with 85 percent of the hospitals in Chicago, her home base. So she knew she had started a trend and felt that there was potential for the business to expand beyond Chicago. "Kelly did not want to go into franchise mode, but wanted the business to grow with partners, each partner owning a region," Kennefick explained, adding that he owns the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut regions.
When he was running his commercial photography business, Kennefick had only one employee. In his role with Bella Baby Photography he employs six people to staff the Bella Baby office in Williamstown.
Sheri Riddell of North Adams started working for Kennefick 13 years ago as a photographer's assistant, helping with commercial photography. "Now we have 50 photographers throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut," said Riddell as she sat at her desk, computer in front of her.
Kennefick has secured contracts with 24 hospitals. "We can come in contact with tens of thousands of moms. We establish relationships with them and their families. Hospital surveys and our surveys are strong. And we're doing market research to see if (it's feasible) to serve smaller hospitals," Kennefick said.
Recently, Kennefick found himself in front of a camera instead of clicking a camera. In a filmed segment of a Fox News telecast in June, Kennefick was shown standing in the maternity wing of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York as he said, "Our goal is to come into that room and celebrate that life and make a portfolio for that family they will cherish forever."
Working to bring that goal to fruition is more than satisfying for Kennefick. "I love this business," he said. "We are given the privilege to be in a private, personal, amazing moment."