Pictures of you

Local portrait project gets to the heart of Chico

Photographer Sesar Sanchez on the other side of the lens.

Photographer Sesar Sanchez on the other side of the lens.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

“I don’t consider myself to be a photographer.”

This was one of the first things Sesar Sanchez said after I turned on my digital recorder for his interview. We were sitting outside on patio chairs on a recent mild Chico evening, and I had just spent the previous two-plus hours as his latest subject for Chico365, a popular local photography project that’s had Sanchez taking photos of and interviewing someone new every day since Jan. 1, 2016, and posting them to a site that bears the tagline: “I’m a photographer.”

“I [also] don’t consider myself to be a business person because I work at a retail store, I don’t consider myself to be a musician, … these are some things that just happen to be things that I do.”

However self-deprecating he might sound, Sanchez is being earnest—when it comes to the photography at least. (I’m inclined to disagree with the notion that someone with a bachelor’s in music who spends nearly every waking moment setting up shows and tours for and playing guitar in two bands—Teeph, Cold Blue Mountain—booking and promoting shows at the Maltese Bar & Tap Room, volunteering with the Chico Area Punks, and working as a clerk at the Music Connection isn’t, in fact, a musician.)

While the 35-year-old has earned his local-music bona fides since coming to Chico from Salinas for school 14 years ago, photography is new for him. He says he started taking pictures two years ago because he saw photos of live shows in Chico that were taken on cellphones and weren’t very good. “I was like, this is the worst. I was like, I wanna show up with a nice camera. I can do better than that.

“I didn’t know what I was doing. I just started taking photos at shows. I was always at shows anyways; this was even more of a reason for me to go.”

In addition to posting his live shots on Facebook, he started his Chico365 site ( and challenged himself to take and post a photo a day starting Sept. 5, 2014. “I made it to like four months in and I stopped because I got a girlfriend and that kind of took over my life.”

At the end of 2015, Sanchez decided to create another challenge: Take a portrait of someone every day of 2016. He put out the call on Facebook for anyone, “as long as they have an open mind,” to hit him up if they wanted to take part. And the response was instant, with people of all ages, friends and strangers, most with ties to the local arts and music community, lining up to have their photos taken. But what was intended as a photo project almost immediately turned into something bigger.

“The problem was that I asked a question the first day: ‘So, what would you like people to [know] about you?’ And … I was like, “Oh my god, people have things to say.”

The realization has had an impact on the process, which has evolved from that first meet-up to include a long conversation with his subject, followed by a photo session and finally the asking of deep questions—about life, the state of the world, etc.

“I just feel like, overall, that people have a lot of great things to say—if you make them feel comfortable,” Sanchez said. And now, he runs into people around town who say they look forward to his postings, because they feel it’s a way to “meet another person in my community.” In a way, Chico365 has become a rich portrait of the people of Chico, one that’s being added to every day.

“Everyone is more than what they seem,” Sanchez said. “Everyone is more thoughtful, everyone is going through a lot of things, everyone is feeling a lot of stuff, and everyone is suffering to [one] degree or another, and everyone actually is more positive than you would ever believe.”