Usually when Scott Wiegand takes pictures of his two young daughters, he uses his iPhone.
But a few weeks ago, he saw on Facebook that local photographer Paul Richardson was raising money for homeless shelters by taking family portraits of Vermonters on their porches. So he decided to donate, and get some photos with his family while he was at it.
“I’m an essential worker, and my wife is too, so we’ve been working this entire time, and we kind of felt like it was our responsibility to do whatever we could to give back and help,” Weigand said.
He donated $50, and for the quality of the pictures he got back the next day, Weigand thought that was a steal.
“You normally can’t ever get a professional photographer for that much, especially not one that’s going to donate all the money to a worthy cause,” Weigand said. “With all that, it was just the perfect time to donate and get a family picture.”
Richardson has spent the last few weeks making house calls all across central Vermont, taking family portraits outside Vermonters’ homes — from a safe distance away — for any family that donates to their local shelter, usually Good Samaritan Haven in Barre.
So far, he’s raised $3,720 from 58 families in Montpelier, Barre, Northfield, Waterbury, Vergennes and Graniteville, and shared 700 photos of Vermonters stuck at home.
Richardson said the project, to him, is about capturing a slice of life for families during the pandemic, and making something special out of this unique and often challenging time.
“Not many people do portrait sessions like this,” he said. “But this is the way people live: in their homes, with their kids and their pets and everything.”
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Richardson said many of the families whose portraits he’s taken have gotten into it. Some dress in costumes or use props.
“Even kids of a certain age who normally don’t want their picture taken are getting into it,” He said. “It’s a great break from the routine.”
Kim Bent, a Montpelier resident and director of the Lost Nation Theater, said he and his partner had Richardson take their picture holding their computers — since that’s how they’ve had to spend much of their time the past several months.
“Paul encourages folks to use props, if they like, which made me think of having our picture taken with our computers, since that is how we are all being forced to communicate with the outside world these days,” Bent said. “Paul’s offering everyone in our community a fun way to keep connected and to share something of ourselves with each other.”
Richardson said in the first few weeks of the pandemic, he saw a lot of photographers online taking pictures of people on their balconies, through their windows, and sitting outside their homes. He thought that was a great idea, but he wanted to take it to the next level by taking pictures of people at home while also raising money for a good cause.
“The local cause that made sense in this situation, I thought, were these shelters,” he said. “Because at the same time that we have this stay-at-home order, we’re thinking about, what do people do that don’t have a home?”
Richardson said the people at Good Samaritan Haven, where most of the donations are going, were “really excited” when he told them about the project. The shelter typically houses people in very close quarters, and with those conditions impossible right now, it’s still very uncertain how their operations will have to change in coming months — and how they might fund any changes they have to make.
“They could certainly use a little money right now,” he said. “And at a shelter, a little goes a long way.”
In incentivizing people to donate to the shelter, Richardson said he’s been able to remind himself of how important family pictures are to people — in good times and bad.
“I think it’s shown me that despite what everybody in conventional wisdom likes to tell you, photos do matter,” he said. “People like having a photo taken, and this is giving people the permission to have a nice photo taken of them, even in a hard time.”
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