As has been true for most of the world, this has not been the best year for newspaper photographers. Sure there has been is plenty of news to cover, but this has not been the year for intimate, up-close pictures of people at work, in their homes or in school.
I’ve missed getting to know the regular people whose stories fill our newspaper and website. We are no longer spending time letting people feel comfortable around us, and opening their lives to our cameras. We are no longer invited into people’s homes (we actually, gratefully, still are, but have to decline for their safety, as well as our own). Instead it has been a year of people posing on porches, stoops, front and back yards and driveways.
So when I saw a picture on the front page of my newspaper on Saturday, I hope I can be forgiven if my first thought — after I marveled at its magnificence — was “I wonder how we heard about the young lady? And how did we set it up for her to be in the window?”
When I asked my colleague Elizabeth Robertson about it, the story behind her photo only made me appreciate it all the more. I think this was one of the best COVID pictures we’ve made all year, I was so delightfully pleased to hear it was not the result of any prearrangement, but a perfect example of photo-serendipity!
After an evening of our photographing at Philadelphia restaurants on the last night before the implementation of the mayor’s order prohibiting indoor dining, Liz responded to a fire alarm on Walnut Street. It was mostly smoke, not that dramatic a scene (except for the high ladders) so she tried for a different angle by going to the top of a parking garage.
While there, she noticed Anna Evenosky, 22, looking out of her fourth floor apartment window on the same block (she also heard the alarms). After photographing her, Robertson waved with her camera, and shouted to get Evenosky’s attention at her open window. “It was like I was doing the arm motions for Y-M-C-A,” she told me.
They yelled out their phone numbers and began texting. A first-year grad student working toward her doctorate in physical therapy, Evenosky was home because she had just learned she was exposed to COVID-19 by a lab partner and needed to quarantine for 14 days.
Robertson asked about her Christmas tree. “I’m guilty of putting my Christmas tree up on November 7th,” she replied. “Between all the stress of the election, COVID and grad school, I needed something to raise my spirits.”
She added, laughing, “I swear I’m not one of those people who normally puts their tree up so early.”
For Robertson, 54, it was another striking photo in a 32-year career at the Inquirer. Photography has been her passion since sixth grade.
The editors at the newspaper recognized the image for its power and put the picture on the front page. Readers also responded, with more than one describing it as “Hopperesque,” though less melancholy.
And Evenosky? When she saw it, she texted Robertson, “What a nice glimpse of hope for so many people.”
Since 1998, a black-and-white photo has appeared every Monday in staff photographer Tom Gralish’s photo column in The Inquirer’s local news section. Here are the most recent, in color: