Spring portrait event in Anderson brings kids, rabbits together

Mar. 31—ANDERSON — Carefully, Blake Bare stretched his right hand to gently stroke behind the ears of Foxy, a velvet rabbit in the arms of Tonya Wilhoit.

After he took the animal from Wilhoit, a wide smile crossed the youngster's face.

"He likes the real rabbits better than the fake ones," his mother, Kristen Bare, said with a laugh.

The Bares, from Noblesville, have made a tradition of attending the annual spring portrait event at Star Photo's downtown Anderson studio. In their 11th year, the sessions have grown into a four-day ticketed event that increasingly draws repeat customers like the Bares.

"Everybody loves it," said Chuck Rossen, owner of Star Photo. "You can't take a bad picture of a kid and a bunny."

Rossen brought the live rabbit photo shoots to his studio in the early 2010s. The idea was inspired by a friend who owns a photo studio in Fort Wayne.

"He had been doing this for even more years than I have, so I can't say it was an original idea," Rossen admitted.

With children and animals as subjects, getting an ideal image can be either a painstaking process or, in the case of Caroline Hall and her brother, a quick task requiring only a few snapshots.

"I've come to find that if you kind of relax yourself for both the kids and the bunnies, it kind of helps them relax, too," said photographer Brittney Wilhoit.

"With the bunnies, there are little tricks — give them extra cuddles and make sure to just try and keep as calm of an environment as you can. And then with the kids, get them laughing."

Wilhoit has photographed dozens of children over the years, and she enjoys seeing the same faces annually.

"That's really fun for us, because we get to see these kids grow up, and in some cases we get to see the families grow," she said. "They came in with their first kid, and now they come in and there's three of them. It's beautiful."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.