Book review: Cruise Night by Kristin Bedford
At the time of this review, the weather in the midwest is turning to the cooler climate of Autumn. Fall festivals are right around the corner. Those festivals include crowds of people, delicious food, concerts at twilight, and parades. My hometown in Indiana holds a fall festival every year, and the parade always includes historic and custom cars; either with the festival queen and her court waving to the crowds, or owners slowly cruising by just for show. My parents own a classic car, a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair, it carried my sister on a parade route back when she was in high school, and she waved to the crowds too. While my parents never took the Corvair to car shows, they’ve cared for it, kept it running and looking good for over over 50 years. It feels good to drive it down the street, know it will turn heads, and get nods from other classic car owners as they pass by.
Kristin Bedford explores the car culture of Southern California and the lowrider community which she has followed for years. Her attentive images and extensive interviews with members of lowrider clubs and their community provides perspective into this male dominated world and shares not only her view of the people and the culture, but also their stories. Virginia Heckert (Curator of Photographs, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA) says Bedford’s work is “precisely framed and lit, her images capture the jewel-like hues and meticulous customization of the cars, celebrating the creative vision of each owner. She also focuses her lens on the women and family members, revealing the palpable sense of community that underlies this Mexican American tradition. Cruise Night introduces a wider audience not only to that tradition and some of its members through excerpts from oral histories that Bedford conducted, but also to a quietly compelling new voice in documentary photography.”
The book opens with a quote from Tommy Brizuela, a member of the ‘Bomb Life Car Club’ since 1971. His words to set the tone for the poetic, color saturated, and attentive images which follow. Tommy says,
Lowriding is a whole process because you’re showing off your ride, your lowride. It’s colorful. It’s shiny. It’s full of gleam and glamour, and it’s like rolling out the red carpet in Hollywood on a Sunday night and showing your best, and if you have a girl with you and you’ve got good music, it’s like going to the prom, and we did that every weekend. We went to the prom every weekend.
Cruise Night – Project Statement
“Cruise Night is a collection of unstaged photographs and recorded oral history that I made with the Los Angeles Mexican American lowrider community throughout Southern California and Nevada from 2014 to 2019. My path to lowriding originates from my interest in the layered and nuanced ways that customizing a car reflects decades of political, cultural and creative self-expression in this community. Over the five years of making these photographs the lowrider family shared the sophistication and complexity of their tradition with me.
Since its beginnings in the 1940s, the lowrider tradition provided a platform for Mexican Americans to have a voice and be seen. Today there are tens of thousands of lowriders in Los Angeles. The movement is prolific, yet it maintains an element of invisibility in greater society. Lowriding is often pigeonholed as simplistic folk art and stereotyped by the media as crude and dangerous. I have seen a different reality – a refined and beautiful tradition of self-expression that is passed down between generations.
It is not common that a woman creates a body of work around lowriding. Since the inception of the automobile, car culture of all kinds has been dominated by the male perspective. Making pictures as a woman in a space traditionally defined by men, and of a practice traditionally used to represent masculinity, places my work in tension with the prevailing depictions of lowriding.
With Cruise Night, I am offering an invitation to question all of these assumptions and stereotypes, and rethink the visual narrative around this often-overlooked American art form. I am eternally grateful to the lowrider community for embracing me and my hope is that these images begin to touch on the subtlety and depth that I experienced.”
Join Kristin Bedford and the lowrider community for the release of Cruise Night on October 3rd at the Autry Museum of American Art in Los Angeles, from 10-4 at the car show. More information HERE.
Cruise Night by Kristin Bedford
144 pages, (W x H): 30 x 30cm
75 color photographs
Kristin Bedford is an LA-based photographer creating work centered around the intersection of aesthetics and social realism. Her photography explores race, visual stereotypes and communal self-expression. Through long-term engagement with communities, Bedford invites us to reconsider prevalent visual narratives around cultural and spiritual movements. Her work has been featured in such publications as The New York Times, The Guardian, Royal Photographic Society, Esquire, The Huffington Post, among others. Bedford’s photographs are held in numerous private and public collections worldwide, including the Library of Congress.
Also published on Medium.