Kristin Bedford documents the layered tradition of Los Angeles’ lowrider car culture

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The LA-based photographer bears witness to the glitz and glamour of Mexican American lowrider culture, as well as its intimacy, communality, and history

“Lowriding is who I am… It makes me whole,” says Tina Martinez Perez, one of Los Angeles’ lowriders, in Kristin Bedford’s new book, Cruise Night, published by Damiani. 

Made over five years, Bedford’s photobook captures the vibrant lives of LA’s lowriders – a Mexican American community who have been cruising down California boulevards for decades. Cruise Night records the wealth of lowrider self-expression –  “transforming a car is integral to being seen and heard,” she explains. Beyond glistening paint jobs and tactile car interiors, we see lowriders in intricate makeup, ornate suits, or revealing their bare chests, painted with car tattoos. 

Bedford’s images were made as a result of intimate relationships with her subjects, captured using a fixed camera lens. “If you see a photograph from inside the car, it exists because I was invited to be there,” the LA-based photographer explains. Through this immersive process, Bedford grew to understand how lowriding “is passed down between generations…is part of every rite of passage… is in [lowriders’] blood.”

This truth is apparent in the photographs, which are as colourful and explosive as they are subtle and reverent. Lowriding’s layered tradition is reflected in every aspect of the book: its elegant modernist typeface, the metallic foil on the cover – like a car reflecting light – and the book’s featured text, quotes from “old timers.”

Bedford explains how as a woman photographer she was able to connect the women of the lowrider community, and “offer a new story.” In one striking image, a woman seated in the back of a car feels the wind in her hair, her eyelids carefully made up and her chest tattooed with the slogan, ‘No Soy De Ti’ or, ‘I don’t belong to you.’ “I realised that like the visual narrative of  automotive culture of all types, that of lowriding has been entirely shaped by men,” Bedford explains.

Bedford hopes to dispel the practice of lowriding to be considered as a “subculture,” a term which diminishes the size and history of the tradition. “How many people have to do something until you consider it culture?” Bedford asks. “If this was a predominantly white movement, I think it would be considered American culture.” 

Cruise Night is published by Damiani Publications and is available here.

From the series Cruise Night © Kristin Bedford.
From the series Cruise Night © Kristin Bedford.
Nurit Chinn

Nurit Chinn is a playwright and freelance journalist. A recent graduate of Yale University with a degree in English Literature, Nurit has published work in Wallpaper* Magazine, Off Assignment, and the Yale Daily News.