Vibrant photos of L.A.’s contemporary lowrider culture

Vibrant photos of L.A.’s contemporary lowrider culture
A year on from California repealing its decades-old ban on lowrider cruising, Owen Harvey captures the sense of self-expression and community at the heart of the scene.

As a new generation of Mexican-American youth came of age in 1940s Los Angeles, they ushered in a new era of Chicano style and pride. Against the austere backdrop of World War II, they cut a distinctive silhouette in colourful Zoot suits, pairing long flamboyant jackets and baggy pegged pants with a long watch chain, Creeper shoes and porkpie hats.

As the decade came to a close, car culture signalled the arrival of a new phenomenon known as “teenagers.” On the streets of LA, these self-identified “pachucos” and “pachucas” introduced the lowrider: a customised car that cruised “low and slow” for the sole purpose of seeing and being seen.

Racist backlash from the state was swift as lowrider car clubs skyrocketed in popularity. On January 1, 1958, the California Vehicle Code introduced Section 24008, criminalising lowriders across the state and forcing the culture underground. 

Decades later, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, a new generation of Southern Californians embraced lowrider culture, elevating it through music, fashion, film and art – but it wasn’t until 2022 that the California State Assembly finally passed a resolution to repeal the bans.

This July, British photographer Owen Harvey traveled across Los Angeles to document the contemporary lowrider scene for “Ground Clearance,” a series of photographs made in neighbourhoods like Boyle Heights, Venice Beach, Pasadena and Downtown LA.

Growing up in the ‘90s, Harvey was first introduced to lowrider culture through West Coast hip-hop artists like Eazy-E, Cypress Hill, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. “Their ability to tell stories through their music, the style and the lowriders were all amazing to me,” says Harvey, who has long been a devotee of car culture.

Whether photographing lowriders, skinheads, mods, bullfighters, or Imams, Harvey is drawn to the ways people express their identity within the larger group. For “Ground Clearance,” Harvey initially connected with Stacks and his son, Lil Stax, whose shared love of lowriding reveals the deep rooted family ties that lie at the heart of the community.

“Stacks’s role is first a foremost a father to his children and lowriding has been used as a positive outlet and shared bond,” Harvey says. “Lil Stax is the president of lowriding bike club, which is a big part of the scene for the younger generation who can’t yet drive or afford a car. They were both very welcoming and introduced me to other clubs and solo riders.”

As Harvey made his way through the scene, he was warmly welcomed and embraced, sharing meaningful moments of connection with people from all walks of life. “There are teachers and health care workers involved, as well as former gang members who have used the strong family element of lowriding as a positive force to change their lifestyles,” he says.

“Lowriding offers individuals a way of expressing their identity and gives them a strong voice that says, ‘Look at me, here I am. This is the group I belong to and this is what I represent.’ It’s a privilege to be allowed into someone’s life and trusted to represent them in photographs.”

Follow Miss Rosen on Twitter.

Enjoyed this article? Follow Huck on Twitter and Instagram.

Latest on Huck

The activists fighting the mental health crisis
Election 2024

The activists fighting the mental health crisis

Micha Frazer-Carroll examines the way the mental health crisis has escalated in the last five years and meets those organising to end it.

Written by: Micha Frazer-Carroll

Little White Lies’ new issue explores the sick, comic excess of Kinds of Kindness
Film

Little White Lies’ new issue explores the sick, comic excess of Kinds of Kindness

The latest issue from Huck’s sister magazine is an eye-popping and lurid exploration of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ new offering writes editor David Jenkins.

Written by: David Jenkins

Documenting Gay power and Pride in 1980s America
Photography

Documenting Gay power and Pride in 1980s America

New photo book ‘Castro to Christopher: Gay Streets of America 1979–1986’ is an epic story of creativity, community, strength, joy, and resistance on two coasts.

Written by: Miss Rosen

Fragile, intimate portraits of California’s imprisoned youth
Photography

Fragile, intimate portraits of California’s imprisoned youth

New monograph ‘A Poor Imitation of Death’ documents and humanises the stories of seven young Californian inmates, aged between 16 and 20 years old, who were tried as adults despite being juveniles.

Written by: Isaac Muk

I was made homeless 11 days after the Asylum decision I waited 16 years for
Election 2024

I was made homeless 11 days after the Asylum decision I waited 16 years for

After spending years waiting for a decision on his refugee status torture survivor Gideon discovered his traumatic fight for security was far from over.

Written by: Gideon, a client at Freedom from Torture

Save the date for Rishi’s Leaving Drinks
Election 2024

Save the date for Rishi’s Leaving Drinks

Huck is teaming up with our friends at Dalston Superstore and Queer House Party to bring you an election night viewing party like no other.

Written by: Ben Smoke

Sign up to our newsletter

Issue 80: The Ziwe issue

Buy it now