Stig de Block’s new book looks at lowrider cars, culture and community in LA
Employing his trademark style of “strong colour palettes and graphic linework”, the photographer captures the city’s famous lowrider scene.
- Daniel Milroy Maher
- 28 June 2023
“When I was a kid my dad used to play 70’s funk and soul music by artists like Quincy Jones, Shalamar, Rick James and The Gap Band — artists that are prominent in lowrider culture,” beings Belgian photographer Stig De Block, speaking on the inspiration behind his latest project, Back to Back: From Backyard to Boulevard. “I was also drawn to the sound and aesthetics of those cars when I saw them in my favourite artists' music videos on MTV. Besides that I’ve always been inspired by US culture and specifically West Coast culture.”
In 2018, this lifelong fascination took Stig from his home in Antwerp to the streets of Los Angeles, where he would spend the next four years (intermittently, over the course of 12 trips) exploring and photographing the place he had always dreamed of visiting. “Mid-century Spanish homes, city structures, wire fencing, store signs, clothes, music and cars — everything that I loved, everything that I had carried with me since a young age, came together in one physical place,” he recalls. “I just stepped into a magical world and didn’t want to leave.”
Though captivated by his surroundings, there was one aspect of it in particular that Stig was keen to document: the city’s iconic tradition of car customisation. Emerging in the 1940s, “lowrider” culture, as it is called, became a way for young Mexican Americans to express themselves through their treasured vehicles. They made various modifications to lower the body of the car, in order to cruise in them as slowly as possible, and decorated the outside with bright paint jobs, intricate linework and imagery that reflected their Mexican heritage. These modifications were eventually outlawed by certain Californian cities, until the idea of adding hydraulic systems to adjust the suspension of the vehicle allowed drivers to bypass it.
These days, lowrider culture is synonymous with LA street culture, and the community of “lowriders” has grown to include other nationalities and ethnicities. There are various lowrider clubs dotted around the state (and in other parts of the country and world) and members meet most weeks to socialise, fundraise and host awards. These clubs even “reduce gang violence by providing colour neutral zones for rival gang members to interact without prejudice or animosity”, writes Stig.
In Back to Back, his photographs of this community and their cars speak to the rich history of lowriding, and the symbols, objects and fashion that have come to be associated with it. Rather than taking a typical documentary approach and showing his subject in full, Stig hones in on the finer details, creating eye-catching compositions full of colour and textural contrast. “Details that might escape someone else are just as important to me,” he explains. “There is one photograph of a hand holding a bright red cloth pressed against the blue hood of a car: this mixture of material, textures and colour is where I find raw beauty.”
The book itself, which Stig made in collaboration with design studio Vrints Kolsteren, allows space for these details to breathe. The images, many of which have been printed in full bleed, are accompanied by a minimal layout that serves to create further contrast between individual elements within the frame, and between adjacent photographs. The book also features essays by Giovanni Bertoldi, the original founder of the Majestics Car Club and a renowned figure in the lowrider scene, as well as fellow photographer Estevan Oriol, who has been documenting LA street culture for more than 25 years. “I wanted to keep it as far as possible from a classic photo book,” says Stig. “In my humble opinion, it worked out very well. It’s my biggest achievement in photography so far.”
Back to Back: From Backyard to Boulevard is published by Hopper & Fuchs and available to purchase through Stig’s website.
GalleryStig De Block: Back to Back, From Backyard to Boulevard (Copyright © Stig De Block, 2023)
Stig De Block: Back to Back, From Backyard to Boulevard (Copyright © Stig De Block, 2023)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.