A new photo book is celebrating LA’s vibrant lowrider culture

Shot over the course of six years, Kristin Bedford’s Cruise Night series saw her attend everything from car shows to the weddings and funerals of the individuals who make up the city’s lowrider community

Since its beginnings in the 1940s, the lowrider tradition has provided a platform for Mexican-Americans to express themselves. With their extended bodies and low to the road roll, the cars have become the vehicle of choice for cruising, a popular pastime in many American communities.

Today, there are tens of thousands of lowriders in Los Angeles alone, but the movement remains misunderstood by wider society and misrepresented as crude and dangerous by the media.

Known for her quiet portraits of American cultural movements and marginalised communities, Kristin Bedford’s striking new photo book, Cruise Night, tackles the misconceptions about lowriding head on.

“My path to lowriding came from an interest in how the customisation of a car is about having a voice – politically, culturally and creatively,” says Bedford.

“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.”

Far from being a “drive-by photographer” who visits a community for a few days and then returns home, Bedford says her process involves embedding herself in a community for an extended period of time, allowing her to build relationships with the individuals within it, and ultimately capture more honest moments on-camera.

It was while making the Cruise Night series between 2014 and 2019 that Bedford also realised she was the first woman to photograph the lowrider community. “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 made them,” she says.

“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, have 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.”

The end result is an intimate and unstaged exploration of Mexican-American lowrider car culture in LA, offering a new perspective on an often-overlooked American art form.

Cruise Night is published by Damiani; damianieditore.com