‘Lupita, Highclass Car Club, Los Angeles’, 2015 by Kristin Bedford
Los Angeles-based documentary photographer Kristin Bedford spent five years living with and observing the lowriding communities of LA. The result is a photobook infused with colour that gets behind the stereotypes of a testosterone-fuelled culture.
Cruise Night is a joyful visual tribute to lowriding, which is practised by pockets of Mexican-American communities throughout southern California and Nevada. The tradition dates back to the 1940s and involves customising a car so that it rides close to the ground, and sometimes decorating the vehicle with images that reflect the identity of the driver. Here Bedford explains what sparked her interest in lowriding.
'Kandy Lavender and Magenta, San Diego', 2017, by Kristin Bedford
What drew you to photograph the lowrider culture of Los Angeles?
Underlying all of my projects is an interest in social justice and how communities express their civil rights in a society that often marginalizes them. My path to lowriding came from an interest in how the customisation of a car is about having a voice – politically, culturally and creatively.
While lowriding is a worldwide phenomenon, for Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles it has a unique significance. For over 70 years this community has been expressing their identity through this distinct car culture. I wanted to photograph and understand how transforming a car was integral to being seen and heard.
You worked on the series for five years. How did you gain the trust of the lowrider community?
I spent 90% of my time listening and getting to know people, and 10% of the time making photographs. Relationships and trust are at the core of my practice. I kept my camera out so people knew why I was there, but my foremost priority was personally connecting with the lowriders. It was through time and kinship that I gained their trust.
I am the opposite of a ‘drive-by photographer’ who visits a community for a few days, takes photos and then returns to where they came from. I find that such a technique propels the same story over and over again. To make something new and honest, I believe it is key to understand a community. Plus, all of my photographs are unstaged so it is important to be inside a world to make these types of images.
Your photographs suggest lowrider culture is embraced by women as much as men. Was this important to show in your series and book?
While my interest in communal self-expression is what brought me to lowriding, once I began making photographs of the movement, I had no agenda. My process is to completely turn myself over to the unknown. I am grounded in mystery and I let the photos reveal what the story is about. Over time, I noticed that many of the images featured women. It was completely organic that women are so prominent in Cruise Night.
For my entire career I have considered myself a ‘photographer’. During this project I realised for the first time that I was a ‘woman photographer’. When I saw the reverent, quiet and natural photos of women lowriders I made, I discerned that it was a woman connecting with other women who had made them.
I also reflected on why I had not seen images like this before and it became clear to me that the visual narrative of lowriding, and automotive cultures of all types, has been entirely shaped by men. The male-dominated imagery usually portrays women as sexual accessories who pose in bathing suits or lingerie alongside a car. I feel it took a woman photographer to break through this mould and offer a new story.
‘Kristin Bedford at work in Los Angeles’, photographed by a lowrider
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