Chilean Chronicles, Part 100: The Joy and Honor of Working with Jon Lowenstein

My brother and ace photographer Jon Lowenstein in action.  Working with him here in Chile was a fantastic experience.

My brother and ace photographer Jon Lowenstein in action. Working with him here in Chile was a fantastic experience.

Our time in Chile has been an extraordinary and expansive time for many reasons.

Dunreith and I have been animated by a sense of adventure that’s been heightened by having sold our house the day before we flew to Santiago.

We’ve been treated with enormous and continuous generosity by colleagues, students, taxi drivers, and Chileans of all stripes, ages, classes and political backgrounds.

We’ve had the chance to travel within and outside the country to places that in some cases we had dream of going for years, even decades.

We’ve also had a heavy dose of family.

We flew to Buenos Aires to meet Dad and his partner Lee for five days before their two-week cruise in Argentina and Chile.

We’re about three weeks into a more than month-long stay with Aidan, who’s fresh off a fantastic semester of study and travel in New Zealand.

We also had my brother Jon here for two work-filled weeks.

Jon likely would have come here to visit us anyway, and having a professional purpose clinched his decision.

That came in the form of our successful application to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. We put in a proposal that said we would do a three-part series for the The New Yorker’s Photo Blog, a similar project for Vivelohoy, and a number of blog posts for a combination of the Huffington Post, the Ochberg Society, Hoy and my personal blog.

Jon and I have collaborated before.

We’ve covered police brutality on Chicago’s South Side.

We participated in a fellowship where we did a project about the experience of undocumented Latino migrants who become disabled on the job. (This was the one for which I taught myself Spanish.)

We’ve traveled to the far reaches of Northern South Africa to cover life in a rural community there and the efforts of Evanston resident Ann Covode to bring a library and other educational support to the children in the community.

It was during this project that, after a formal ceremony and introduction, one of the teachers told us in front of the staff that they had prepared a delicacy for us to eat: a cow’s hoof.

Last year we flew to Dad’s hometown to photograph and write about his return there for the first time in 73 years.

These have all been remarkable experiences, and the work we did in Chile was our most ambitious yet.

Over the course of a series of conversations, we defined our scope.

We would look at Chile’s past, present and future 40 years after the Pinochet coup.

The past would involve going to memory sites like the Museum of Memory and Human Rights and Villa Grimaldi, interviewing survivors and activists who had lived through the time like Ana Gonzalez, a feisty 87-year-old with bright red fingernails whose husband, two of her sons and a pregnant daughter-in-law were murdered by the government during the dictatorship, and talking with memory scholars like friend Hugo Rojas.

The present consisted of covering the first round of elections that pitted nine presidential candidates against each other, including frontrunner and former president Michelle Bachelet of the Nueva Mayoria, or New Majority, and childhood friend Evelyn Matthi of the conservative Independent Democratic Union.

And the future including talking with young, digitally-savvy Chileans who grew up during and after the dictatorship and who are working to improve the country.

People like Jaime Parada, the son of Pinochetistas whose parents joined neighbors on the street in weeping the night in October 1988 that Pinochet lost the plebiscite that would have kept him in power.

Last year Jaime became the first openly gay public official in Chilean history when he won a Councilman position in the wealthy, politically conservative Providencia neighborhood. Since his election he’s worked with reform Mayor Josefa Errazuriz to push for, and win, a battle to change the name of one of the community’s major streets from Avenida 11 de Septiembre, a name that honored the Pinochet coup, to Nueva Providencia, or New Providencia.

People like the light-blue shirted volunteers of TECHO, a non-profit group founded in 1997 by Father Felipe Berrios and some young Chileans to help individuals and communities fight poverty. Since its inception TECHO has evolved from doing construction work to a more ongoing and holistic approach in which they work with community members to diagnose, and then set a plan to meet, the community’s needs.

Together we went to a campamento, or shantytown, in the La Florida neighborhood that cropped up after powerful floods devastated the area in 1997. The volunteers there were in the process of setting up a community center; other campamentos with a TECHO presence have tutoring programs, a library and micro-enterprise stores.

Being able to do work that you love is a tremendous gift.

Doing that work with one of your brothers for one of the world’s top magazines is even greater.

Indeed, many of the day that Jon was here, before I left the apartment, I’d say to Dunreith, “I’m going over to Jon’s apartment. We’re on assignment for The New Yorker.”

And a riveting assignment it was.

Together Jon and I went to Algarrobo to interview Hernan Gutierrez, who was 13 years old when he witnessed decapitated bodies floating down the Mapocho River shortly after the coup.

We spoke with Mario Hernandez, who told us about waiting on Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda as well as serving high-ranking members of the dictatorship.

We went to Villa Grimaldi and spoke with Carlos Contreras, who still had the chess board he made out of cardboard to play with fellow inmates when they were detained in 1974.

We attended the end of campaign event for presidential frontrunner Michelle Bachelet, listened to her race through her speech and met former President Ricardo Lagos.

I shook his hand and told him that I had seen his finger years earlier. (His finger-wagging calling out of Pinochet was seen by many as a critical moment in the “No” campaign.)

We went together to the Open Mind Fest that was sponsored by MOVILH, one of the nation’s leading gay and lesbian activist groups, that stretched across four city blocks. Jon shot picture after picture of the drag queens who were the unofficial stars of the event, of young lesbian couples holding hands and of the youth dancing and swaying and vibing at the four stages set up along Paseo Bulnes.

Jaime Parada told us that MOVILH held the event near the presidential palace and congressional offices to remind politicians of the community’s clout.

The message appeared to be heeded, as five of the nine presidential candidates attended the event.

Beyond all that we did, the project was a chance to learn from Jon, who is one of the planet’s top photographers.

He shoots and shoots and shoots, getting closer and closer to the action, swerving as he identifies an opportunity to make a picture, letting the place speak to him, always thinking about how he can be do better.

Jon’s been shooting seriously for more than 20 years, and continues to expand his skill and scope. His passion for photography, storytelling and documenting what’s happening in the world remains undimmed. If anything, it’s only grown stronger with the passage of time, clarity of vision and commitment to his craft.

We didn’t only work.

Together with Dunreith, Dad and Lee, we’d have lengthy dinners topped off by nightly servings of ice cream. We’d carve out space to laugh about family stories and discuss the latest developments in the NBA.

I don’t want to suggest that the collaboration was easy at every moment.

It never is with two strong-willed people, let alone two brothers with more than four decades of history.

And there’s no doubt in my heart and head that working with Jon was a joy and an honor, and something I’ll remember for as long as I can remember.

Living in Chile has been magnificent, and the project with my brother is a big part of it.

I can’t wait for the next one.

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