Kristin Bedford’s new book is a personal documentation of Mexican American lowrider culture in LA
Shot between 2014 and 2019, Cruise Night – published by Damiani – is an intimate and candid look at a longstanding tradition that often gets misunderstood.
- Ayla Angelos
- 17 March 2021
On one hand, Kristin Bedford’s background is conventional, and on the other it’s completely unexpected. For starters, she was given a camera from her father at the age of five, meaning she was able immerse herself in all the glories of picture taking from the get-go; she’s been making photographs ever since. Her father is what she describes as a “bohemian” filmmaker and activist, and he’d indulge his daughter into the work of cinema, teaching her how the films were shot and so on. He’d also take her to countless art exhibitions, parties and underground concerts. And this is where it gets interesting.
As a child, Kristin would be amongst the likes of Warhol and Basquiat, and “hung out” with them in Chelsea, Manhattan. “It was Warhol who told me to look at the work of Garry Winogrand after I told him I was a ‘street photographer’,” Kristin tells It’s Nice That. “My background and education in photography was organic, and influenced by being in the world.”
Kristin’s past – socialising with the industry’s elite and immersing in all the city had to offer – is undeniably going to leave a mark on her view of the world. Not to mention the ways in which she’d go about taking pictures. In this sense, Kristin’s work explores topics of race, visual stereotypes and communal self-expression, an interest spawned from a life spent engaging with different communities. Her portfolio thus includes an abundance of thought-provoking work that spans religion, faith, non-traditional religious spaces such as tent revivals or river baptists, as well as a documentation of the busy scenes and characters of Alvarado Street, LA. “Underlying all of my projects is an interest in social justice and how communities express their civil rights in a society that often marginalises them,” she adds, noting that her path towards her most recent body of work, Cruise Night, stemmed from this very inquisition.
Cruise Night is a new publication released via Damiani, compiling a series of pictures taken between 2014 to 2019 from Southern California through to Nevada. Each picture lenses the Mexican American lowrider community found in Los Angeles, a tradition that’s been around since the 1940s. To this day, there are now thousands of lowriders in LA, and there’s much more to this community than what the media stereotypes it as – i.e. those who are just out to cause trouble.
The term “lowrider” has two meanings, says Kristin: “It refers to both a customised car modified to allow the vehicle to ride close to the ground, and the driver of the car.” These vehicles all feature a lowered body and generally come adorned with unique, colourful designs and various other extravagant paint jobs. Before snapping the series, Kristin came to notice how the customisation of cars was closely related to having a voice in the world – “politically, culturally and creatively”. She continues to note that even though the lowriding is a worldwide phenomenon, within the Mexican Americans in Los Angeles, specifically, there is a profound 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.”
As a result, Cruise Night is not merely a documentation of her chosen subject, it also represents a deep interest in a community and a desire to show her findings to the world. A personal book replete with intimate and un-staged photographs, she adds: “Cruise Night is a confluence of community, aesthetics, social realism and quietude.” A contrast to what you’d usually see when capturing the scenes of car enthusiasts, Kristin’s work is a shy away from the typically male auto-ego that’s become synonymous with the term of lowriding. “While making the work,” she says, “I began to see that many of the images featured reverent, natural and introspective women. My gaze offers a new visual narrative around women and the automobile, one that strays from the traditionally male-dominated sexualised depictions. I came to this path naturally, and maybe it took a woman photographer to introduce these types of images.”
Perhaps this is why we’re greeted with an unusual mix of cropped interior shots, splashes of pinks and lime greens, and portraits of women in complete quiffed hair and leather attire. There are your usual suiters, of course – that being the wide shot of the vehicles themselves – but nothing of your typical, masculine flavour or that which you’d usually expect. After two years working on Cruise Night, Kristin experienced a switch in attitude: “There was a moment in 2016 when I felt an internal shift form a cognitive understanding to an intuitive one. Suddenly, I could feel how lowriding was in their DNA and how it was part of who they are. As a result of the lowriding family so generously embracing me, I had the opportunity to understand this tradition at a personal level,” says Kristin on a final note about the work. “Lowriding has often been stereotyped and misunderstood as simplistic or crude. In my own quiet way, I am offering a glimpse at how I experienced this great American tradition.”
Cruise Night by Kristin Bedford is published by Damiani at £45.
GalleryKristin Bedford: Cruise Night, published by Damiani (Copyright © Kristin Bedford, 2021)
Kristin Bedford: Cruise Night, published by Damiani (Copyright © Kristin Bedford, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.