9 Jan 2014

Big freeze: a portrait of Chicago by Jon Lowenstein

Award-winning documentary photographer Jon Lowenstein reveals the impact of severely cold weather in the US on his home, Chicago’s South Side. He tells Channel 4 News his story.

I live in an area of the Chicago’s South Side called South Shore. It’s a gorgeous neighborhood with fantastic architecture, wonderful people and an amazing past and powerful present.

The neighborhood is a predominantly African-American neighborhood which is comprised of working poor, middle class and wealthy people. It sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and is just south of Hyde Park where the University of Chicago is situated.

‘Food desert’

This winter has been difficult. It’s been one of the coldest on record and definitely the harshest in recent memory. The only time I can remember a comparable spell was ten days during my first year in Chicago when the mercury didn’t climb above zero degrees Farenheit for about ten days. It was cold.

This winter has seen the closing of our local supermarket. The Dominick’s helped feed this community of 49,000 people and ensured the people without cars could simply walk to the store and buy what they needed.

With Safeway foods deciding to close all 72 of their Chicagoland stores we are now officially a “food desert”.

We are hoping that someone will open a new one but, unlike in wealthier communities where new supermarkets are already slated to open, not one buyer has stepped forward yet. Since I moved here in 2005 all the true supermarkets have been shuttered and today we are left with mostly overpriced corner stores to do the shopping. I’m hoping it gets better.


This, in combination with the extreme cold and the unusually high levels of social violence in the community, means that we are facing some real challenges to social stability. The maintenance of high quality businesses, city services, decent housing and social wellness are the cornerstones of a healthy community.

What always amazes me about this community though is how resilient the residents are. They don’t stop because the supermarket closes. As you see in the piece, people find a way to go on.

My goal with this story and the ongoing chronicling of life on the South Side is to give a different view of life in a marginalized community. I hope that movies like this and my @jonlowenstein instagram feed will help people to better understand what daily life is truly like here on Chicago’s South Side and in communities like it all over the United States and the world.

For in every city there are underserved and overlooked communities. We must all take the time to see the potential in every citizen and person. Thanks for checking out the film.

Jon Lowenstein is an award-winning photo-journalist, and a member and co-owner of NOOR photo agency.