We started At This Time, the RoundTable’s photo column, one year ago.

I’ve been a picture editor all of my professional life, but I’ve never worked as a paid photographer. I’ve taken thousands of family photos and figured I could capture life in Evanston. But I wasn’t certain. It’s like a choreographer who wants to try a year as a dancer.

The early challenges were daunting. Let’s go back to December 2021: The pandemic was in full swing. Nobody would let me into their home. Schools? Forget it. Events, meetings, business – it was all largely virtual. Winter was coming, so few – except for dog walkers – were going out. Those who did wore masks. Not the making of good photographs.

So our first At This Time showed a small group of bold early morning swimmers off the Lee Street Beach. Since that day, I’ve uploaded six photos most weeks, for a total of close to 300 images.

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As the pandemic eased, my options expanded. What a year. Riding on a city snowplow, witnessing the first drawing for reparation payments, attending the ETHS homecoming dance (something I never did in high school), photographing gas giveaways, funerals, protests, concerts, joyful kids at playgrounds and a range of religious services.

I’ve used an iPhone throughout the year. It is remarkably reliable. And it made it possible to look directly at my subjects instead of hiding behind a camera. It made me accessible and forced me to get close.

My earliest assignment: watching the sky from the Lee Street Beach. Credit: Richard Cahan

A favorite moment was watching the planets align at 4:30 one morning at the beach. Because it was dark, I needed the shutter to release by itself so the camera would not shake in my hands. In order to do that, I had to say “Turn up the volume” – a strange command my iPhone camera requires to snap a photo on its own. Here I’m shouting “Turn up the volume. Turn up the volume,” as others came to cogitate on the wonders of the universe.

When I started, I called my work “The Year of Photographing Dangerously.” Not because I was on the front line of danger but because I hoped to edge up to the front line of life. To connect with people I’ve never had the chance to meet and – more importantly – to take readers along.

That’s why I stand in the first row at City Council meetings, make my way up to a fire or bike with my camera to every neighborhood in Evanston. I feel you are with me. And I strongly believe you have a right – no, a need – to see your neighbors up close. This is who we are. This is where we stand. To me, community journalism is as important as any reporting in the world.

The secret of marriage? “Choosing your battles,” said Pam Henley. Credit: Richard Cahan

At first, I thought the column would be primarily pretty pictures – the lakeshore, lighthouse, things like that, the daily staple of social media. But before long, the responsibility of taking this space hit me. I could let readers know about upcoming events or call attention to issues that need addressing. I could pry. I could ask a couple sitting on their front steps the secret of marriage or ask people along the Northwestern landfill to tell me where the beavers hang out.

Choosing where to go is the hard part. I usually head out with an idea of what I plan to photograph. But I often find another photo along the way.

The nugget of each story beneath each photograph is as important as the picture itself. If done right, the words and pictures work together, and my photos become a collaboration between me and you. The fun of doing this work is I get to learn every day.

Richard Cahan

Richard Cahan takes photos for the Evanston RoundTable. He also is publisher of CityFiles Press, a small but mighty media company that believes in the power of words and pictures. You can reach him at...

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  1. This is community journalism at its best; which is to say journalism at its best. About the thing itself — living life.