Business Person of the Month: Randy Richards

Randy Richards

Photographer, DJ, Author, Publisher, BabelCon Conference Coordinator, Board of Directors for the Science and Engineering Education Foundation.
Contact Information:
(225) 571-5530

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

— Albert Einstein

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

–Albert Einstein.

Photographer Randy Richards is a man of many interests and when possible he works these interests into a business.  An author, publisher, DJ, and the owner of a couple of small businesses, he has primarily made his living as a photographer – at least since the early 90s when he was hired by Olan Mills, the largest portrait photography company in the world.  He started in their Kids Division, did a short stint in the Glamour Division learning fashion photography, and finally settled into the Church Division photographing families.

Since starting his own photography company, his work has become ever more eclectic.  He’s done theater photography for the Loyola Ballet, Komenka and Le Petit Theater, as well as portraits for dance recital program booklets.  “In 2005 I was commissioned to operate Santa Clause photos at the Chalmette Cinema, so I dressed up like Santa and had a family member take the photos.  I also began taking Christmas pet portraits, which was a lot of fun.”

Wedding photography led him into another sideline, the DJ business.  “I realized that with a small investment in professional speakers and an amplifier, I could produce excellent dance music.”  Once he started playing music at weddings, Richards got other DJ gigs–Sweet 16 events, anniversary parties, and even a “Heart Walk” for the National Heart Association.

Richards was born in New Orleans and raised in Chalmette, Louisiana. He graduated from Chalmette High School in 1984, then from college in 1989, and moved to Tennessee.  “My mother’s family is from Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains. I just wanted to get closer to my roots – not to mention it’s gorgeous up there – so I moved to an area near Gatlinburg.”  (His mother had moved to Chalmette when she was young because her father was transferred to Kaiser Aluminum there.)  The move proved beneficial for his career in photography when Olan Mills, which operated out of Chattanooga, hired him.   After five years in Tennessee, he was transferred to Baton Rouge and started a family.

Richards’ schooling had nothing to do with photography: he went to the University of New Orleans for Business, and later to Phillips College for an Associate Degree in computer programming.   He believes anyone with an eye for images can do photography, with or without any formal education.  He does credit his portrait training and glamour training from Olan Mills for some of his success in his own business.  “I’ve always known I had an eye for the camera, ever since I was a little kid.  My brother and some neighborhood kids would make movies using my dad’s 8mm film camera, and later with a video camera.”

After ten years with Olan Mills, Richards established “Dance Partners Photography & Video” with his brother Rick Richards, who has been dancing professionally for over ten years with Loyola Ballet, Komenka Ethnic Dance troupe and performing with Le Petit Theatre and Jefferson Performing Arts Theater. Between the two of them, they have over twenty years of experience in the art of photography and videography, and experience in Digital Photography and Digital Video.  Although located in Louisiana, they will work wherever their customers need them, from New Jersey to California.  Their motto is “We bring the studio to you — and never a sitting fee!” 

In what little spare time he has, Richards likes to spend time with his family, to bowl, visit the zoo, and play Dungeons & Dragons and Warcraft.  He has been playing Dungeons and Dragons since the late 70s. “We had the Basic D&D boxed game in our Gifted & Talented class, and I used to play a Cajun halfling (a hobbit, for you non-D&D folk). The other kids loved it, especially the accent.”   He doesn’t have time to read a lot of books anymore since he’s running so many businesses.  The last book he read was a Star Trek novel “The Q Continuum” by Greg Cox, but his first books remain his favorite.  He cites as his biggest influences Tolkien’s books, such as The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion; Isaac Asimov, who wrote I, Robot and the Foundation series, and Margert Weis & Tracy Hickman, who wrote the Dragonlance series.  He’s a movie buff, particularly Science Fiction movies.  “I use my association with BabelCon to teach the younger generation about classic Sci-Fi movies and books. People have heard of great Sci-FI movies like Independence Day, Aliens and Blade Runner, but some classics have started to fade into memory – First Men in the Moon, Day of the Triffids, Them, Colossus: the Forbin Project, Forbidden Planet, and Brainstorm – these classics still hold up today. Fantasy movies like Dragonslayer, Dreamscape, Labyrinth, and the original Village of the Damned, are still plenty creepy and exciting.”

Star Trek costumes

In the late 90s Richards hosted a series of Gen Con events, one of which included the co-creators of D&D–Gary Gygax (who died March 3rd) and Dave Arneson, and other big names in Gaming including Frank Mentzer, Lisa Stevens (now CEO of Paizo Publishing), and Anne Brown. “This got my name known in the industry, although at the time that wasn’t my goal.  I was just trying to have fun and spread the joy of gaming.”  He’s been a guest speaker at several Fantasy and Gaming conferences and serves on the board of directors of BabelCon, whose next conference will be here in Baton Rouge, July 19-20.  Special guest at this years conference include actors-Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica); John Hertzler and Suzie Plakson (Star Trek); Bob May (Lost in Space) and paranormal expert Kalila Smith.   There will be Star Trek style dancing by green-skinned ladies, an indoor Renaissance Festival, a live cast performance of Rocky Horror Picture Show, Nightmare Theatre, a Pirates of the Caribbean interactive, and model rocket discussions, as well as Gaming-D&D, roleplaying games, historical war games and video, board and card games.

In 1998, Richards had a game adventure entitled “Dark Magic in New Orleans” published in the Nov/Dec copy (issue #71) of Dungeon Adventures Magazine. “After receiving scores of complimentary letters from people all over the world, I decided to start writing on a regular basis. With all my traveling with work there really wasn’t time, but while driving I would make notes on anything available: cardboard boxes, gum wrappers, Styrofoam cups — anything!”  He had been writing stories since his teens, but now he wanted to try a book.  Starting his own photography business cut down his traveling, so he could spend more time with his daughter, but Richards also found he had more time for writing too.

As he copied all his notes from various scraps of paper, he realized they had accumulated into a swamp theme.  He settled on the title, Dreadmire, since the swamp was a deadly mire, dreaded by all.  In 2002, he had enough to be a coherent book. From concept to completion, the book took approximately fifteen years to produce; ten years to research (including visits to real marshes and swamps), three years to write, one year to edit and one year to illustrate with the help of several artists.  When people ask what it’s about, he says, “Cajun Hobbits in an evil version of the Atchafalaya Swamp, with giant cockroaches, undead mosquitoes, demonic fungus, malevolent cypress trees, mud dwarves, slime dragons, man-eating plants, and weregators, thrown in for good measure.”  The book is a game accessory, and the three Dungeons & Dragons rules books are required to play the game.  “I heard some people have bought my book just to use the background material, ignoring its game components.  It has a lot of local flavor, and very detailed swamp material.”

In 2003 Spellbinder Games contacted him about publishing his manuscript. They had seen him at various conventions: Gen Con, Dragon*Con, CoastCon, and Crescent City Con or read his works in Dungeon magazine. They promised him control over the project and faxed a proposal, which he signed right away. Spellbinder Games was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina.  In June of 2007, the game publisher was purchased by a consortium of Fantasy authors.   “In a strange twist of fate, using the profits I made from Dreadmire, I was able to buy into the company.”  Richards is the major company holder, and acts as Project Coordinator. They will be publishing more Gaming books in the near future, and a novelization of Dreadmire is in the works.

When asked about the future of Baton Rouge, Richards said that as an artist, he did not feel qualified to comment.  But when the question was brought down to this city’s acceptance and friendliness to his interests-Gaming, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and conventions for such, he became loquacious.  Richards says that on the whole Sci-Fi fans and Gamers do not socialize much, and have a hard time connecting with others with the same interests. That’s why conventions remain staples for us “geeks.”  (If you want to gain an understanding of him and his friends, Richards thinks the new TV series “The Big Bang Theory” pretty much sums them up, albeit in a humorous way.)  “Before Katrina, it was hard to find Sci-Fi and Gaming fans in Baton Rouge.  There were here of course, but the community has vastly increased since the New Orleans diaspora.”  He offers the unusually rapid growth of BabelCon as proof.  The first year they had 80 attendees, then 450, and BabelCon number three might break 1,000.  “In my opinion, Baton Rouge is hungry for this kind of fun distraction.  We’re all stressed out because of the storm.”

Like a lot of Sci-Fi/Fantasy readers, Richards is a book collector, who’d rather buy books than check them out from the library. In the last ten years he says the only things he’s checked out are videos.  When he wrote his gothic horror story “Dark Magic in New Orleans” he did research at the LSU Library where he found wonderful historic maps of 1890s New Orleans as well as local background material.   But he thinks electronic media will mostly replace books.  “Me and my nerd and geek friends predominantly find local libraries to be functionally outdated, thanks mostly to the Internet.  It’s not the local library system’s fault – most libraries seem to be stuck in time.” He thinks libraries of the future will feature more electronic rather than physical books.

[The East Baton Rouge Parish Library has understood this need and is rapidly collecting video – both movies and documentaries – on all subjects, and books on audio and CD.  The library offers electronic databases for use at the library, as well as from the home computer.  Through Overdrive, a feature on the library’s homepage, patrons can access all kinds of e-media for download.  Hundreds of titles of electronic books, video materials and audio books (fiction, nonfiction, children and teens) are available through Overdrive.]

Randy Richards has enjoyed meeting many different types of people during the course of his photography career, but finds working with children the most rewarding.  He estimates that over the last twenty years he’s taken roughly 1.2 million photographs, which is quite an achievement.  “That’s a lot of families. I’ve learned a lot about people, possibly enough to become a sociologist.”  The personal philosophy by which he lives is, “Achievement is the knowledge that you have studied, worked hard, and done your best. Success is being praised by others, and that’s nice, too, but not as important or as satisfying. Always aim for achievement and forget about success.” This philosophy has worked for Randy. By doing the things he loves, and making businesses out of his interests, he’s managed to find personal satisfaction as well as success.

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