These images of LA lowriders show dazzling cars and tenacious women
In the back of a 1952 Chevy Deluxe, a woman pushes her hair back, her heavily wrinkled eyes closed in a moment of calm, the words “No Soy De Ti” (“I don’t belong to you”) inked on Her chest . Mary is a member of the Vintage Ladies Car Club, a Chicana lowriding community based in Los Angeles County, and she is one of the many lowrider photographers Kristin Bedford features in her five-year work “Cruise Night”, which depicts the interiority of both his subjects and their cars.
“Cruise Night”, recently published in book form, is a compendium of the vibrant velvet and leather interiors, metal wheels and dazzling paintings that make up the cars of the Mexican-American community, bathed in the idiosyncratic golden hours of Los Angeles or the artificial glow of ambient light at night.
“I bought my first lowrider in 1958 when I was twelve. It was a 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline. I bought it from a guy in my neighborhood, one of the Pachuchos on 38th Street,” lowrider Oscar Reulas told Bedford on “Cruise Night,” saying he gave all the money he had: $ 63. “I started working on this thing the same night, fixing it at my way, keeping it low to the ground. “
“Yahaira Millenium”, Car Club Los Angeles, California, December 27, 2015. Credit: Kristin bedford
“While lowriding is about community, it is also about fierce calls for respect and independence,” Bedford said in a video interview.
A different point of view
Bedford, who is based in Los Angeles, has spent a lot of time getting to know members of the community, recording their own oral histories as well as photographing them. At the root of all her work is “an interest in social justice”, she said, “and the way in which communities express their civil rights in a society which often marginalizes them”.
The portrait also depicted a vision of women which she said was rarely seen in depictions of automotive culture in general. And as she continued to photograph, a powerful theme began to emerge from the stillness of her series.
“I started to see that the images depicted respectful, natural and introspective women,” Bedford said. By comparison, “the whole visual narrative of the automobile – not just lowriding – is dominated by men and women are relegated to sex accessories.”
“I started to see that the images depicted respectful, natural and introspective women,” Bedford said. Credit: Kristin bedford
For “Cruise Night,” Bedford spoke to many old school members who reflected on lowriding and how the practice has woven into the fabric of their own lives.
“I drove my 1979 powder blue Cutlass like a regular car,” a lowrider named Tina Martinez Perez of Bedford said in the book. “I raised all my children in this car, I brought my first grandchild back from the hospital in this car. At the time, most of the people on the boulevard driving were men and women sat next to them. I was different. “
Lowriders can be vehicles, but they are also a creative expression of owners, becoming objects of identity and history.
“(I was) interested in how personalizing a car is about having a voice, politically, culturally and creatively,” Bedford said. “This specific community has expressed its identity through this truly distinct automotive culture.”
The “Gypsy Rose” lowrider is one of the world’s most famous custom cars, recognizable for its floral designs and plush pink interior. Credit: Kristin bedford
Cars are often the culmination of years of overhaul; Bedford calls them a “tabula rasa” for the owners. In one of his images, counterfeit $ 100 bills explode like a paper sculpture from the seams of a trunk. In another, a shiny baby blue Don Julio bottle is displayed on matching blue leather and stitched seats. And then there’s one of the most famous cars, named “Gypsy Rose,” in which an 8-track player emerges from the car’s lush magenta velor interior.
These are the inner moments that Bedford has often chosen to focus on rather than the entirety of the cars. “I saw that there was an intimacy with the objects (in) the cars,” she says. “(These are) those little spaces and places where people have expressed their vision through personalization.”
Some of his favorite details in his photographs are also reminiscent of the origins of the movement. In a portrait titled “Yahaira,” a young woman looks to the side, her hair styled with bumper bangs and pinned with blue and purple flowers – a nod to a classic pachuca beauty.
Details, like pinned flowers, refer to the cultural origins of lowriding, which is rooted in Chicano / a story. Credit: Kristin bedford
“The pachuco / pachuca style is considered (as much) a style as it is a form of resistance,” she said. “And so the details that speak to me are where you see those story clues.”
Through “Cruise Night,” Bedford pays homage to a West Coast tradition that has fostered an international legacy, although she feels she is not given enough credit for her far-reaching influence.
“Lowriding has often been stereotyped and misinterpreted as simplistic or crude, and in my low-key way, I offer a glimpse into how I lived this great American tradition,” she said. “I am convinced that this is not a subculture, it is a culture and a tradition of fine arts.”