Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Low and Slow

Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Carlos Archuleta, Espanola, '66 Chevy from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-5

In 1950s southern California, Mexican-Americans began to lower the suspension in their cars, bringing the vehicles closer to the ground. Unlike “hot-rodders” who customized for speed, their motto was “low and slow,” creating custom cars with personalized decoration with which they could cruise through the city streets. These vehicles, and the men who drove them, became known as “lowriders.”

Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Paul, Annabelle, and Paula Medina, Chimayo, '68 Chevy Impala from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-2

As lowrider culture flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, it became more than a shared interest, and grew to encompass a sense of belonging to Mexican-American communities. During periods of segregation and racial discrimination, lowrider clubs proudly displayed their pride in their Latina/o heritage. Catholic imagery, airbrushed portraits of family and girlfriends, and personal designs all reveal what was important to the community, and to the individual artists. Los Unidos, one lowrider club, (pictured below) took on the virgin of Guadalupe as their logo.

Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Sammy Martinez and Los Unidos - Franke Maestas and Vangie Martinez, Leroy Martinez, Rob Garcia, Delfino Martinez, and Donaldo Valdez - Espanola '68 T-Bird, '66 Chevy Caprice, '70 Supersport, '56 Chevy, '62 Chevy, '49 Chevy from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-12

It is this sense of community that Meridel Rubenstein captures in her photography series, The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico. In 1980, she took shots of drivers posed next to their brightly painted vintage cars. In her words, "These cars... are directly descended from a great tradition of Hispanic crafts. The outside of the car must be flamantito or clean. This means they must be perfectly spotless and waxed, and beautifully painted with either metal flake or pearl paint, pin-striped or lacquered with a mural and often a message."

When David Jaramillo died in a car accident, his brothers took on the vintage car that he had been in the process of customizing, and spent thousands finishing the work he had started. The work, titled Dave's Dream, is a '60 Ford LTD with an image of Dave and his family. In Rubenstein's photograph, his widow and young son sit against the car, a testament to his memory and to family.

Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Irene Jaramillo, San Juan Pueblo, '60 Ford LTD from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-3

The women pictured in Rubenstein's portfolio are not pin-up girls in revealing outfits, but owners and partners in this culture. Particularly striking is Peggy Martinez with her '64 Chevy Two-Tone (pictured below). She sits in the driver’s seat, her head resting on her arms, looking straight at the viewer. Her gaze placid and proud.

Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Peggy Martinez, Santa Cruz, '64 Chevy Two-Tone from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-6

It’s this pride that permeates every image of “The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980.” Its clear that Rubenstein recognizes that the owners of these vehicles are artists in their own right, and she honors their work.

Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Bennino Martinez, Chimayo, '64 Chevy from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-11

Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Delano Whitney, Albuquerque, ' 70 Olds Cutlass from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-10

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