Kristin Bedford’s new photo book Cruise Night (Damiani, 2021) is a thoughtful tribute to Los Angeles’s long-running Mexican-American lowrider car culture. Since its beginnings in the 1940s, lowriding has been a pivotal and ever-evolving source of pride, expression, and identity for its tens of thousands of members. However, despite its cultural significance, the movement has too often been pigeonholed by outsiders as folk art, or derided as a dangerous subculture.
Crucially, Bedford’s book keeps the lowrider community at its visual and conceptual center. While her crisp, sharply composed photos sensually celebrate these exquisite cars and their dedicated drivers, snippets of oral histories by lowriding club members throughout the book grant essential insight into the lives and experiences of this unique community.
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“The customization of a car is about having a voice,” Bedford wrote in a recent email to Hyperallergic. “I wanted to photograph and understand how transforming a car was integral to being seen and heard.”
In Cruise Night, being seen is an understatement. Bedford’s close-ups of highly polished, brilliantly colored car bodies gleam under the southern California sun, producing mirror-like reflections that double and distort other elements in the frame, like flags, flower bouquets, and club signs. Being seen also applies to the many women who populate Bedford’s photos. Lowriding is often considered to be a male-dominated movement, but Bedford — who is the first female photographer to produce a large-scale body of work on the subject — shines a spotlight on the women of all ages in the community and behind the wheel.
“I keep my camera out so people know why I am there, but I spend a fraction of the time making photos,” Bedford says of documenting the lowrider cruise nights. When she does take pictures, Bedford’s photos are unstaged, unposed, and shot at close range. “If you see a photograph from inside a car, it exists because I was invited to be there,” she explained. Bedford’s open outlook is how she connected to LA lowriders.
“We are always being stereotyped,” Juan Ramirez, co-founder of the Los Angeles Lowrider Community and president of Just Memories Car Club Los Angeles, has said. “She’s one of the very few that got it right.”
Bedford’s book reveals lowriding to be a generational but deeply personal pursuit— a lifelong lifestyle that connects its members’ core selves and higher purposes. In one photo, a lowrider is painted with an image of a woman giving birth. In another, a woman kisses a casket decorated with a dazzling lowrider-style paint job. One image shows a priest as he holds up his hand to bless a parked vehicle.
As in her previous project The Perfect Picture — which documents the aging followers of the International Peace Mission Movement — Bedford’s latest book sensitively captures the life-changing power of community traditions, where longterm devotion gives way to the sublime.