Blood Harmony: Cruise Night


A new book paints a beautiful portrait of a community bonded by custom steel and hydraulics.

Photographer Kristin Bedford’s beautiful new book Cruise Nights, which is published by Damiani Press, lifts the lid on a scene whose representation is often shot through with cliché and stereotype.

A chest full of tattoos including three cars

For outsiders Southern California’s cholo culture, replete with high hitched Dickies, too-tight white vests, jail tatts and supercharged Machsmo – is synonymous with toxic masculinity —  laden with a cartoonish kind of female sexuality and plagued with gangsterism.

The Low Riders that form the material culture of the Mexican community of Los Angeles are seen as totems of criminality. The reality is of course much more nuanced than that. And rather than imagining lowrider as icons of the outlaw – in Bedford’s book they are presented much more accurately – as the connective tissue of a dynamic, family-based culture whose centre is kindness, love and respect.

A side-on view of a white low-rider

“My priority in any project is relationships and listening to people and understanding,” says the photographer. 

“Over time, kinship was developed and friendship with people whose lives I was documenting. All of my photographs are unstaged, so having that type of trust is integral to my process.”

The work was made between 2014, when Bedford arrived in LA, until 2019  and the last hurrah of the Trump presidency, which did much to demonise a community already suffering from the stigma and prejudice encouraged by the regime’s ‘Build That Wall’ fantasia.

Polaroids of low-riders.

Bedford attended her first cruise night close to Christmas in 2014  – in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant.

“Everyone knew one another. They were like a family,” she says.

While she didn’t know anyone at the event at the time, she soon got talking to people and was invited back to successive events. It was the start of a five-year relationship that culminated in one of the most interesting books on car culture to emerge in recent years.

A man and woman roll up to a car park.

The term ‘Lowrider’ doesn’t only refer to the customised car (usually a mid-century Detroit classic) with a lowered body. It also refers to the position of the driver giving it that low-slung gangster lean.

The tradition originated in LA’s Mexican-American community in the mid-to-late 1940s and flowered during the chrome clad post-war prosperity of the 50s.

It was from the very start all about display and identity- and over the years it has become a central celebratory culture around which many working-class Mexican Americans have gathered.

A girl in a leather jacket, with a flower in her hair, looks into the distance.

Bedford quickly became aware of the extent to which in the barrios of East Los Angeles, the customisation of a car is considered a fine art – one carried out with love and scrupulous care.

“I came to see that lowriding was another way that people who are marginalised express themselves politically, culturally and socially,” she explains.

“Lowriding is in the DNA of the Mexican-American community of Los Angeles. It was deeply a part of their humanity; I saw children born into the lowrider community, and that passion and love is passed down between generations. It is not just a hobby. It’s an internal, very deep, heartfelt expression of who they are. And it took being inside the community to really understand that.”

A green lowrider moves down the street.