Photographer Jon Lowenstein loves Chicago. He’s originally from Boston, but his affair with the city started with a real-life relationship: Years ago, he dated a woman from the city’s South Side and spent a lot of time exploring the community. Now Lowenstein, a TED Fellow and member of the NOOR photography collective, lives in the neighborhood himself, and is making it his mission to spread awareness about what’s going on there.
Predominantly African-American, the South Side is home to nearly a million people, and it’s historically been known as a poor part of town. But as wealthier people move into Chicago, longtime South Siders are being priced or pushed out of their homes. As has happened elsewhere, gentrification has led to more violence, particularly among gangs.
In the past year, Lowenstein has increased his efforts to reach a larger audience by posting black-and-white reportage photographs of the city on his Instagram account. Why? He wants to get people outside Chicago to think about the city’s future. “How do you reconcile the place that produces the American president and his wife, yet at the same time leads the country in murders?” he asks.
Below, see 14 of his shots of life on the South Side, along with his commentary.
A rally against violence
An anti-violence rally on the corner of Jeffrey Blvd and 71st Street in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood on the South Side. Says Jon Lowenstein, “Hundreds of people gathered to protest against the ongoing reality of social violence that’s impacting the neighborhood. Murders in the South Shore neighborhood were up about 33 percent last year, and there have been many shootings this year.”
The powerful symbol of a coffin
Participants in the anti-violence rally in South Shore carry an empty coffin as a symbol of the ongoing violence in the area.
A community that won’t give up
Another shot from the same anti-violence rally. “Living in the community, I truly hope that we can find a way to improve the place and reduce the violence,” says Lowenstein.
What happens when the police show up
“After a street fight in which this woman was involved the Chicago police were called, and she was arrested,” says Lowenstein.
A vigil for Endia Martin
In the Back of the Yards neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, a man holds a vigil for murder victim Endia Martin.
Stop killin our kids!!!!
A sign protesting gang violence on 84th Street and Escanaba Avenue.
Violence on the South Side
“Emergency response workers respond to a crime scene where one person was murdered and another was shot in the leg,” says Lowenstein. “Social violence continues to play a strong role in the life of Chicago’s South Side communities.”
The ongoing gang feuds in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood
“A Chicago police detective investigates a scene where four people were shot at 2359 S. St. Louis in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood,” says Lowenstein, who wrote on Instagram when he posted the image: “While I don’t know which gang did the shooting tonight, the 2-6 [gang] and Latin Kings have an ongoing battle for territory and respect in this neighborhood which goes back a long time.”
Business as usual often means harassment
“University of Chicago police and Chicago police respond to a battery in progress at the Walgreen’s at 55th and Lake Park. They searched the car and arrested at least two young women, and one officer spent his time harassing me for doing my job,” says Lowenstein, who says such interactions are “business as usual.”
Stop the violence
In South Shore, a door removed from its hinges is daubed with hopeful anti-violence messages. Says Lowenstein, “Looked in but don’t know if anything’s happening. No end to the violence through this door but I sure hope we can [stop it].”
MLK looks out on the South Side
In South Shore, a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. smiles through a grilled window. Says Lowenstein: “This was the last object left in a former resale shop on 75th Street after it closed.”
Love in a tough neighborhood
Despite the violence, Lowenstein loves the South Side, and he’s keen to point out that there’s another side to life there. Here, a Bridgeport backyard barbecue, which he tagged #yolo #chicago #chitown #love.
Honky Tonk and BBQ on the South Side
“Last night I headed down to Honky Tonk BBQ, ate some nice smoked chicken and listened to the Fat Babies put it together with some strong tunes,” says Lowenstein of this South Side neighborhood restaurant.
How to build a community? With dinner
Lowenstein took this shot at a community potluck dinner on 75th Street and Coles Avenue: “Veronica Kyle lives in South Shore with her husband William and attended the pot luck dinner. … Nice turnout of at least 25 people. Broke bread and exchanged some important ideas.”
All photos courtesy of Jon Lowenstein.