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San Antonio photographer explores the unique beauty of lowriders

José Mosqueda with a lowrider in front of Jesse Treviño's La Veladora
Courtesy photo
Al Rendon
José Mosqueda with a lowrider in front of Jesse Treviños "La Veladora."

Al Rendon has been photographing music and culture in South Texas since 1973. While his first focus was to shoot those who made music, before long he widened his focus to show a much wider part of Texas culture.

“I've been doing commercial photography and art photography for over 50 years,” he said. “I recently had a retrospective exhibit of my artwork at the Witte Museum that just closed at the end of May.”

Rendon’s photo of Selena was used for the cover of 1992’s "Entre a Mi Mundo" album. Rendon has spent the last 50 years doing a mix of photographic endeavors.

Now, he’s being honored with a new photo exhibit at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. It features 30 works that illustrate San Antonio’s lowrider subculture.

Rendon said some of his shots for Carros & Cultura were taken during the holiday season.

“They did a cruise through downtown, between Christmas and New Year's. And they all lined up around the tower, the base of the Tower of the Americas over there by the Institute of Texan Cultures,” Rendon said. “And then they drove all through downtown up Houston Street. And of course, Houston Street at the time was very decorated for Christmas. And so it made for a great backdrop.”

Many lowriders have the ability to hop up and down and do other tricks people don't expect cars to do.

“They were also hopping and they were driving on three wheels at an angle. In March of this year, there was the lowrider Super Show at the Joe Freeman Coliseum,” he said. “And they have a hopping competition and all these different types of things that they judge the lowriders on. And so that was another opportunity to get some good action shots.”

He also said that some of the lowriders have that sense of retro fashion hearkening back to the zoot suit era.

“I've only been doing it for a little over a year. So, I've still got a lot to learn about the actual history of lowriding here in San Antonio,” he said. “But some of these car owners that I've met from San Antonio, they're already second or third generation of lowriders.”

Rendon said that lowriding as a passion is culturally unique.

“The thing about lowriding is it is a homegrown, Mexican-American phenomenon. It's not something they borrowed from somebody else,” Rendon said. “These cars — they don't come off the assembly line that way. These guys have learned how to put hydraulics to them to make them jump around. Nobody else does that except in Latino culture.”

There are several different clubs active in the city, and they’ve morphed over the years. Some clubs hearken back to the early days of lowriders in Los Angeles. Others are uniquely San Antonian.

“They have all these different clubs here. There's the Browns, there's the Impalas, there's the Estilo Fino. And it's very family-oriented,” he said. “That's one thing that surprised me about it is how involved the families are in fixing up these cars and showing them off every weekend on Sundays and Saturdays. They have picnics, and they have cruises down Southwest Military.”

"Carros Y Cultura" will be up through Sept. 2 at the Bullock Museum. Also, Rendon will be at the museum on Wednesday, July 3, at noon to discuss the artwork. Find more information here.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii