A project by Jon Lowenstein
curated by Anastasia Pineschi
Social violence is a real and present problem in the United States. Issues like police brutality, racial discrimination, and poverty still disproportionately affect minority communities. Documentary photographer Jon Lowenstein has dedicated his practice to presenting the social effects of institutional violence, engaging with the people in his photographs over the course of decades to show how these issues can impact more than just individual lives.
Through projects like Shadow Lives USA and Ferguson, Lowenstein has employed a deep sensitivity to document the struggles of the migrant crisis in the United States and the national protests combating police brutality against Black men and women. In South Side, Lowenstein embraces his adopted community of Chicago’s South Side to show the pains and joys that come with daily life in a politically neglected neighbourhood.
Lowenstein is the first documentary photographer to utilise the blockchain, furthering a new initiative of using the technology to promote social justice and equity. The blockchain has become a popular method of permanently storing information in a way that is widely accessible to the public. Projects like the DADA Collective’s ‘No Justice No Peace’ and One / Off have employed this technology to champion police accountability and increase visibility for artists from underrepresented groups. By placing his photographs on the blockchain, Lowenstein has ensured that these records of his community are permanently embedded into the fabric of a nation-wide experience.
Lowenstein’s newest project, ‘The Advocate’, takes a focused look at the activists fighting for a new America from their home in the South Side of Chicago. As Lowenstein keeps pace with Jedidiah Brown and others, this Chicago neighbourhood reveals itself as a microcosm of American social violence and racism, mirroring the damaging effect this violence has on Black families and communities across the nation.
For the past decade, Jon Lowenstein has been documenting the residents in his community of Chicago’s South Side. The wider city has recently experienced substantial economic revitalisation, but often this new wealth does not reach the city’s poorest, most vulnerable residents, frequently resulting in lives lost to poverty and violence.
From births to funerals to the intimate moments in between, Jon Lowenstein has captured the lived experiences of his South Side community, engaging with them not only as a documentarian, but also as a neighbour.
Through photographs, found ephemera, oral histories, and other gathered evidence, Lowenstein shows how the daily joys and tragedies of South Side residents speak to a greater narrative of economic and racial inequality in the United States.
The 2014 Ferguson protests were a watershed moment for the modern civil rights movement in the United States. Enraged by the fatal shooting of unarmed Michael Brown, the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri took to the streets to protest against the unequal policing of Black people, sparking nearly two weeks of civil unrest. Jon Lowenstein, in partnership with Channel 4 News, produced this documentary film using footage from his time on the frontlines in Ferguson.
Set in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election, The Advocate is a portrait of the personal sacrifice required to make change in America as told through the eyes of four young Chicago-based activists.
This feature length documentary film begins when a cadre of organizers successfully shuts down Chicago’s first and only Trump campaign rally, asserting their role as both the voice of their community and their generation.
Told partially through the lens of their own cameras, the story follows the “Facebook Live” era of street activism in which Jedidiah Brown, Will Calloway, Aleta Clark and Lamon Reccord attempt to inspire wholesale transformation in the utterly dispossessed communities of Chicago’s South Side using nothing but their phones.
Set against the backdrop of America's most segregated city, and the most violently segregated political era since the 1960s, this film documents the extraordinary levels of hard work, sacrifice and trauma experienced by these self-appointed advocates as they attempt to make our country a better place to live for everyone.
From Laquan McDonald, to Harith Augustus, to Kenneka Jenkins, our characters use their voices to lift up those silenced by police brutality, institutional racism, and a broken democracy. They consistently put their lives on hold, and without a decent wager for success, they persevere with an undying faith that sets them apart and shines a light on what the work of true change actually looks like.
Bridging the narrative from front-line leaders who have confronted these challenges for decades to the more eclectic generation of activists mobilizing post-George Floyd, The Advocate serves as a testament to the power of one person’s will to do the right thing for the greater good.
Content Warning: This footage contains scenes of violence, trauma, strong language, and gun-use.
This exhibition was made possible by:
MoCDA The Museum of Contemporary digital Art
Serena Tabacchi, director
Anastasia Pineschi, curator
Jon Lowenstein, filmmaker, director & producer
Phil Harvey, executive producer
Rachel Webster, lead film editor & writer
Alex Wesser, production manager
Karen Frances Eng (@oculardelusion), cryptomaven & communications advisor
Lenara Verle (@y0b), exhibition design
With special thanks to David Moore at Known Origin and to Jedidiah Brown.
Jon Lowenstein - Director
Jon Lowenstein is a documentary photographer and filmmaker who specialises in long-term, in-depth investigations into the realities of inequality, justice, and social violence. He has engaged with many common unities throughout his projects, from his neighbours in Chicago to undocumented Mexican migrants and their journeys to the United States. Lowenstein is a TED Senior Fellow and a John Simon Memorial Foundation Guggenheim Fellow in Photography, and has won a variety of awards for his work, including the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize and the National Press Photographers Association New America Award. The Advocate is currently a finalist for the Alexia Foundation Grant for World Understanding. JonLowenstein.com
Phil Harvey – Executive Producer
Phillip Harvey has over 25 years of experience in developing arts education curriculum and African diasporic curatorial content for local, national and international institutions as well as independently produced projects. Programs have served audiences in Tokyo, Japan; London, UK; Hong Kong, China; the Republic of Palau, and a host of American cities. He is a Fellow of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) and US State Department International Visual Arts Institute as well as a JP Morgan Fellow in Arts Management. Motivated by meaningful roots in South Side Chicago and a lasting history of friendship with Jon Lowenstein, Phil joined The Advocate team committed to widening its audience and strengthening its funder base.
Rachel Webster – Lead Film Editor & Writer
Rachel is a seasoned visual storyteller whose experience ranges from broadcast journalism to feature film editorial to interactive museum production. Known for her extraordinary talent for story editing, Rachel specializes in experimenting with form and subject at the intersection of comedy, drama, music, social justice, documentary and narrative. Her feature film work (three documentary / three narrative) has premiered at SXSW, Seattle IFF, Nitehawk, MoMA and played in over 20 different countries, on Air Canada, Netflix and the Sundance Channel. With a background in Emmy-winning TV journalism (PBS), her one constant in an eclectic career has been her dedication to crafting stories grounded in truth and empathy. captainandthefox.com
Alex Wesser – Production Manager
Alex is a New York City–based creative and activist with a history deeply rooted in community organizing, non-profit development, and documentary production. Committed to the marriage of these pillars, her career has traversed creating film production curricula for justice-impacted youth, founding mutual aid organizations in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the resulting protests, and joining the Board of Directors and officer team for Ride to DC, a startup non-profit devoted to advocating for Black lives. Entrenched in the current movement and dedicated to the strength of this story, Alex is utilizing these experiences to skillfully manage the production, funding and organizational strategy for The Advocate.
Karen Frances Eng – Cryptomaven/Communications Advisor
Karen Frances Eng is a UK-based American writer, editor and artist working across a wide range of disciplines. Most recently she is exploring the possibilities of digital art, VR and cryptoart (under the moniker oculardelusion) as tools of expression and connection, as well as social justice and conservation. As a longtime contributing writer in the TED community, she has followed and written about Jon’s work for many years. Now she’s working with Gristle & Bone to bring The Advocate and Jon’s work to the blockchain and will be editing his forthcoming book on the South Side, to be published by Hatje Cantz in early 2021. karenfranceseng.com
Lenara Verle – Cryptovoxels Architect
Lenara Verle is an artist and researcher in the field of media art, collaboration and alternative currencies. Her latest projects and artworks can be found at lenara.com.