Cedar Mill woman's new business venture brings family stories back to life

by: JONATHAN HOUSE - Rita Norton show a before and after of how she turns clients' photobooks into smaller, more compact albums.In almost any household whose residents pre-date the digital era, the shoeboxes lining closets and basement cubbyholes have likely contained photographs far longer than they did sneakers or pumps.

Hiding in the recesses of those cardboard rectangles are scads of 5-by-7 color, glossy prints in envelopes, along with square, rubber band-bound Polaroid and Kodak snapshots that collectively illustrate amazing stories from multiple generations of living.

Beyond a move or rainy day cleaning project, however, they’re largely ignored or unseen. And Rita Norton doesn’t think that’s right.

“We have gotten away from sharing photos and telling stories behind them,” the Cedar Mill resident says. “And digital technology is a lot to blame for that. With digital, we just snap away and end up with 30 shots of a deer. You have so many photos and don’t have a way to get to them.

“We post pictures up on Facebook to share with friends for 15 minutes.”

Photovation, her homespun photo organizing business, is dedicated to culling the best from even the most scattershot photography collection. Norton weeds through those neglected, haphazardly stored pictures languishing in dusty boxes, digital files — not to mention electronic folders from crowded hard drives and smart phones — to catalog and present them in appealingly accessible ways.

by: JONATHAN HOUSE - Rita Norton shows how she streamlines precious family albums by fitting more photography in smaller albums  while also adding design elements to them. Her end-result specialties include digital photo books with pictures scanned and arranged onto glossy pages; DVD-based presentations, complete with soundtracks if you like; and photo prints alphabetized and neatly arranged in accessible storage boxes. To top off her projects, she provides clients a comprehensive digital archive backed up through an online storage “cloud” such as Picasa (

The services, she says, are about enhancing “the emotional connection you have with your photos, the stories you have of your grandma and grandpa. It reconnects you to your family. And so many components of it are completely affordable.”

On the case

Many of Norton’s growing clients seek her out to fulfill an event- or occasion-driven goal such as a slide show or DVD presentation for a wedding, graduation or family reunion. Others pay her going rate of $40 an hour to come in and photographically clean house. She offers a free 45-minute consultation for new JONATHAN HOUSE - Oftentimes Rita Norton will receive boxes of loose photographs that she puts together, scans and uploads onto an online cloud service, where her clients can view them digitally.

Like a benign version of an evidence-gathering FBI agent, Norton, 46, sweeps your house of picture-packed boxes, crusty photo albums, dusty CD stacks and disheveled digital files and camera cards. From her upstairs guest room that doubles as the Photovation studio, she spins these scattershot treasures into nostalgic gold.

“A lot of people contact me initially for a project, like a 70th birthday where they want a slide show or someone’s graduating,” she says. “That often leads me into helping them sort through their existing photo library.”

Debra Guinn, a Portland physician who lives in Cedar Mill, met Norton last year through their children’s involvement with the Tualatin Hills United Soccer Club.

“I asked her what she did for a living, and she said she was in (photo organizing),” Guinn recalls. “I said, ‘Oh, I need that!’ And she’s been carting boxes of photos out of my house ever since.”

Guinn admits her own attempts at compiling pictures for her daughter Shelby’s recent graduation from Sunset High School just weren’t cutting it.

“I wanted to have something to look at her life,” Guinn says of Shelby. “Rita did an amazing job on her DVD — way better than I could hope for.”

She was so pleased with the results that she gave Norton free reign to make sense of decades’ worth of photos.

“It’s a timing issue,” Guinn observes. “With your first kid, you have (neat and organized) photo albums. By your third kid and everything subsequently, you lose the time and ability to deal with it. It’s a nice thing to have someone sort out your stuff and get rid of all the crappy pictures. Having someone doing that helps immensely.”

Changing the picture

A part-time photographer, Norton traded a career in finance and marketing 12 years ago to be a stay-at-home mom. Her first home-based business, focused on wedding invitations and birth announcements, eventually slumped along with the national JONATHAN HOUSE - After she finishes sorting, scanning and creating albums, Rita Norton sends the categorized photos back to her customers.

Coming across the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, she discovered a new path.

“I thought, ‘This is a profession,’” Norton says. “I was super surprised to see this association. They had a list of organizers by state, and I looked to see if anyone in Oregon did it. I signed up to get their support.

“When you’re working by yourself, it’s nice to know other people are doing the same thing so you can collaborate on ways to do things more efficiently with tools to make it easier.”

Emotional response

Norton received some positive reinforcement from one early customer who hired her to transform what Norton called a “mess” of a photo collection into a slide show for a family event. The resulting 500-photo presentation evoked a powerful reaction from the grateful client.

“She told me, ‘You made my mother-in-law cry for two hours.’ It was her way of saying it was awesome,” Norton says.

As intriguing as it can be to peruse other people’s images of yesteryear — particularly the out-there 1980s hairstyles and multicolored pantsuits from the ‘70s — Norton brings objectivity to projects her clients lack.

“When I’m looking through photos, I’m looking at the event, the category, the time frame, versus looking at each of those with an emotional attachment that will prevent me from going through them efficiently,” she JONATHAN HOUSE - Rita Norton talks about how she improves the family album with a careful eye toward design.

Despite the professionalism she’s developed in one and a half years of organizing, however, Norton doesn’t deny there’s fun involved.

“The hairstyles are probably the best. And some of the outfits of the 1970s — full-on, multicolored pantsuits — those are hysterical. I show my kids those sometimes, and they laugh,” she says. “The fashion and the hair will get you every time.”

Get the picture

What: Photovation, a home-based photo organizing business by Cedar Mill resident Rita Norton


Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Call: 503-941-0710

Information: To learn about the Association of Photo Organizers, visit

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