Photo Journal Monday: Sebastián Hidalgo
Written by Agnes Bae
Sebastián Hidalgo is an award-winning photojournalist who uses photography to engage and explore many social and humanitarian issues affecting communities of color. He is the digital producer for Chicago Public Media-WBEZ and has collaborated with The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBCUniversal, The Chicago Reporter, and more. He currently freelances in Chicago and throughout the Midwest.
Dolton, Illinois—a suburb located just south of the city limits of Chicago, used to be an enclave for the middle-class and an industrial powerhouse. It once boasted decent schooling, local jobs, and affordable homes for its citizens. Today, suburban poverty has eclipsed urban poverty across the country according to the Brookings Institute. At one point, where manufacturing and industrial jobs in the metropolitan area were enough to keep small local businesses afloat, Dolton now faces many challenges threatening the livelihoods of its remaining citizens. Crimes have increased, local schools are struggling, and the village cannot afford to pay a multi-million dollar water debt to the city.
One of the primary factors for the economic crisis in Dolton was The Great Recession which plummeted housing prices in the 80’s, forcing the local government to raise property taxes to compensate for losses. The rise in taxes drove away many blue-collar families who depended on industrial jobs in factories that inevitably, were also forced to close. It is only one of the many cities across the United States that has faced a similar situation, one in which infrastructure is crumbling, jobs are thinning out, and upward mobility feels like nothing more than an empty vision. It invokes larger questions of our nation’s economy, who it values, and ultimately its efficacy in providing sustainable lifestyles for the people which it serves.
Meanwhile, a big hindrance for residents unique to Dolton are the freight trains that pass through both Dolton and its neighboring town Riverdale. Everyday the trains halt to create a physical barrier for miles in both directions, restricting residents from performing daily responsibilities such as dropping off and picking up children to and from school.
Sebastián Hidalgo’s photographs aim to document Dolton as a community, not merely a place on a map. His dramatic black-and-white images depict the town as a place where the socio-economic issues deserve the attention of his audience, but also where the promise of opportunity and success is not lost on its citizens. The stark lighting in the images metaphorically resonate with the town that has been shadowed by economic strife, but one where we are reminded shadows and darkness cannot exist without light. An image of children sprawled out on the pavement completing homework assignments while they wait for the freight train to pass, or the image of the residents attending Miss Jenkins funeral, a beloved figure in the community who was seen by many as a mother figure, capture the intimacy and closeness of Dolton’s residents, proving that they still do, and will continue to withstand the marginalization of their once vibrant community.