Taking Porchtraits

Montpelier photographer Paul Richardson takes a picture of Steve and Catherine Coteus and their 7-week-old son Mesa on their porch in Montpelier last May. Richardson has been offering “Porchtrait” photo sessions in exchange for a minimum $50 donation to the Good Samaritan Haven homeless shelter.

Paul Richardson’s personal biography says he is a photographer, journalist author and publisher.

What it doesn’t say is the Montpelier resident is foremost a storyteller, who has been telling stories since 1990 — the year he started both StoryWorkz, a company that helps businesses and organizations tell their stories by integrating words, web, photos and print, and Russian Life, a bimonthly, English-language magazine covering Russian culture, history, society and geography.

“I believe the best marketing is storytelling. It’s the best way to communicate information about a company. It’s the best way to make an impact. We help businesses understand how to tell their stories,” he said.

He started work in Moscow in 1989 as a publisher of books and magazines about Russian life, moved to Montpelier in 1990, continued with publications about Russia, and shifted much of his business focus in 2008 to helping businesses tell their stories. Clients range from large nonprofits and arts festivals to small- and mid-sized companies.

“When Russia started invading all its neighbor we needed to emphasis the non Russian side of our business,” he said. “We weren’t sure how long a Russia focus would be viable.”

Richardson gained an affinity of Russian life when he enrolled in Russian Area Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. He moved to Russia in 1989 and lived there for two years, where met Vermonter David Kelley, an attorney and a co-founder of Project Harmony (now PH International). Project Harmony was founded in 1985 for the purpose of cultural and educational exchanges between the then USSR and the United States.

Richardson moved to Vermont to work with Kelley.

“We were in business together about a year-and-a-half. We also did some projects together in Russia,” he said.

Although most of Richardson’s clients are located out of state, he has several Vermont customers including Leader Evaporator Company of Swanton, the largest U.S. manufacturer of equipment needed by maple syrup producers. “We are helping them explain to their clients who they are so they can sell more of their product,” he said.

StoryWorkz also has a variety of smaller Vermont clients, ranging from construction companies, to bakeries, to consulting firms.

Jon Wagner and Karin Bellemare, co-owners of Bear Roots farm in Williamstown and South Barre, are featured on StoryWorkz brochure.

Two of his biggest clients are the Festival of the Arts Boca, in Boca Raton, Florida, and the Festival of Napa Valley in California, two of the most successful arts festivals in the country.

“We help them build their annual magazine, their brochure, photography, and much more,” he said.

Storyworkz’s main work focus in on four topic: Words, “Words used well”; Video, “Video does not have to be expensive”; Web, “A website should be ab engine for growth”; and Design, “Simplicity and clarity equal design.”

Richardson’s expertise is photography.

“Humans are hard-wired for visual stimuli. As a species, we remember 10% of what we hear, 20% of what we read, but 80% of what we experience visually,” he said.

He works with a team of professionals including a web designer, a web architect, two designers and a video producer, who are located throughout the country, from Connecticut to Michigan.

“For this business, it’s a virtual world, you can work from anywhere.”

The COVID-19 restrictions haven’t had much impact on his company.

“The photography work slowed down a bit but the rest of the work has been busy. Companies that understand what they need to do, companies that are smart, know they need to start marketing now to pull out of this thing. There are a lot of challenges,” he said.

This spring, Richardson used his photography skills to create Vermont Porchtraits, a project to raise money and awareness for Vermont’s homeless. He had read a news story about how the novel coronavirus affected central Vermont’s homeless population and the strain it had placed on Good Samaritan Haven.

“We were all sheltered in place and I wondered, ‘what about people who don’t have a home, how can I help them?’”

He photographed 65 families, most in Central Vermont, on their porches, in exchange for donations to the Good Samaritan House in Barre and a Vergennes charity.

The project, which was featured in both Parade Magazine and The Washington Post, raised more than $4,000.

His company has released more than 100 publications of interest to Russophiles, from books, calendars and literary journals, to maps and cards. Two of the company’s books, Moscow and Muscovites and The Little Golden Calf, won the prestigious AATSEEL award for the year’s best translation from Russian into English.

Richardson is author and co-author of more than a dozen books, most recently “Resilience, Driving Down Russia’s Spine and The Spine of Russia.”

He also has written and translated more than 300 articles on Russian history, culture and life published in Russian Life magazine and elsewhere.

A graduate of Central College in Pella, Indiana, Richardson received a degree in political science and Russian Area Studies Certificate from Indiana University, Bloomington. In 1989 and 1990, he ran one of the first successful Soviet Western joint ventures, a publishing company based in Moscow.

He lives with his wife of 33 years, Stephanie Ratmeyer. They have two grown children.

“We help businesses and organizations explore how professional photography and story telling can help them,” Richardson said.

To see the Porchtraits project, go to https://storyworkz.com/blog/vermont-porchtraits-project/

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