It’s one thing to have a vision, but another entirely to bring it to reality.
Jon Lowenstein, my brother and an enormously talented and accomplished photographer, did that Saturday night with the launch of the Island, a place dedicated to creating dialogue about social justice through documentary photography and film.
Jon has worked and lived on Chicago’s South Side for about a decade.
His photography of the community has garnered some of American letters’ highest honors, including the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship.
More recently, as part of that ongoing project, Jon has sought to bring a new and different arts space to Chicago’s South Side.
After hunting around for locations, he decided on an apartment in his building on South Shore Drive that had been vacant for close to a decade.
Fortunately, he had help.
Jon’s dedicated team of Sarah Rivers, Anastasia “Guru” Page and Natalie Perkins did what amounted to a near complete rehab in the past week. Among other things, they pulled carpet from some of the wooden floors and painted the walls a soothing and attractive white.
Everything was ready for the launch.
Visitors coming off the elevators were treated to several of Jon’s large black and white prints on the wall outside of the apartment.
More work awaited inside.
The apartment is a large three-bedroom with rooms located off the lengthy, main hallway.
The dining room held more of Jon’s larger pictures, many of which were taken with his IPhone.
The wall of a side galley contained much smaller images arranged in rows.
A computer projected “Chiberia,” Jon’s recent film that British television station Channel 4 commissioned about the bitter cold in Chicago and the recent closure in his neighborhood of a Dominick’s supermarket, onto a cloth screen in the living room.
All were in black and white.
All were intimate shots of people and places in the community.
Some of the pictures were older, while others were more recent.
But all were based in a bone-deep commitment to show a wide range of aspects of the proud, wounded, challenged and resilient people and their neighborhoods.
It was a snowy evening and the driving was tricky, so the crowd gathered slowly.
But gathered it did.
Residents old and young from the building attended.
“I’m the oldest person in the building,” One sprightly woman with a cane and a kind face told me proudly. “I’m 92.”
“I’m 90,” her friend standing next to her declared, her eyes twinkling.
Friends from the community like Tenessa Moss, who has known Jon since he worked at the Paul Revere Elementary School through the Comer Science and Education Foundation in the early part of last decade.
And, of course, Jon’s photographic brothers.
People like Danny Wilcox Frazier, whom he’s known for a quarter century, drove for hours from Iowa City to attend the event.
Carlos Javier Ortiz, who’s documented the painful reality and steep costs for years, was there, too.
The energy kept surging as the crowd continued to file in, imbibe the selections of wine or sangria Sarah had prepared, consume the spicy chili and soothing macaroni and cheese laid out near a vegetable plate, and soak in the pleasure of each other’s company and the glory of the new space.
Wearing an evening-style jacket, his recently-cut hair pulled back a la Steven Seagal, Jon addressed the crowd after several hours of festivities.
He thanked everyone for coming, saluted his team, friends and family and talked about coming events at the space.
A wet plate project supported by The New Yorker will be next.
The work of Danny, Carlos and our dear friend and wise soul Ava Kadishson Schieber will be displayed, too.
Hearty applause and more celebrating followed.
It’s not entirely clear what form the Island will eventually take.
Jon has talked about regularly holding salons and of bringing photographers from around the world to it.
But it is certain that many people were drawn to the site and to his vision that has begun to be realized.
Comprised of people from different backgrounds, ages, and levels of physical ability, the group demonstrated the hunger folks have for a community space committed to art and dialogue and social justice as well as the power that is unleashed when you provide just that.
Saturday was a snowy and cold evening in January.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.