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Interview with Valerie J. Bower

[dropcap size=big]V[/dropcap]alerie J. Bower has been documenting the Lowrider scene in a way that's so intimate, you feel like you are right in the middle of the party. We first met Valerie in April during the Long Beach Zine fest. Her pink butcher paper covered table caught our eye, but it was her images that made us connect with her immediately. Next came an intro to Valerie's instagram, which presents a fresh perspective  of Los Angeles. Not only does Valerie photograph the Lowrider scene, she documents her everyday life which includes traveling on the Blue line metro, walking the streets of her favorite neighborhoods, and whatever else may catch her eye. Valerie isn't motivated by fame or money, she's inspired by the people and places in her neighborhood and culture. She has show that opens tonight (Sept. 11th) as part of "Slanguage" at LAxART. valerie-j-bower-la-taco-interview-desilu-munoz-4Where did you grow up and do you feel your surroundings influence your work?

I grew up in Wilmington and lived there until I was 18. Growing up in the Harbor area has had a lot of influence on my work and the things I’m drawn to photograph. There’s a lot of personal childhood nostalgia in my images. Growing up, my oldest brother always had different cars and lowriders when he came to visit us. He’s been in a car club called Rollerz Only for years now.bts_taking pictures of lowriders at elysian parkHow did you get into photography?

I took a photography class in high school. During that time I learned how to use manual film cameras and how to develop and print in the darkroom. I'm kind of shy, so I liked photography because it gave me the courage to go up to people and ask for a picture. The camera was the icebreaker. I took portraits of some of the punk kids in school, bands and my friends. After high school my boyfriend at the time was into photography and he sort of inspired me to start shooting. It’s ironic but when I met him he was into photographing Lowriders and the Chicano rap scene and I wasn’t really shooting that at the time. Now all the years later that’s what I’ve been shooting and it’s pretty weird how that all worked out. It feels like I’m barely starting to really shoot and really getting my “vision” right now but I feel like I’ve been shooting forever. It feels like things started at the beginning of the year. After the LA Art Book Fair, it finally all evolved where I continuously released stuff.work_ice cream truck at elysian parkWhy do you shoot with film?

I honestly like how it looks and it feels so much better. As a photographer when I’m shooting film it gives me a different mind set to where I’m so conscious because I’ll have one roll so I’m like I only have a certain amount of frames “I need to get this”. Film is a discipline it gives you a different outlook on what you’re doing. I love how it looks and I’m in love with analogue.

Are you shooting with color film or strictly black and white?

Funny thing is I used to shoot with color because I’d buy it from a 99 cent store. After moving around some party bags I uncovered a ton of film and I kept buying it and using it until it was all gone. Because it was so cheap I used that and I just printed my zines in black and white. That pushed me to get into black and white more so now I shoot black and white film regularly.

zines_my zines and booth set up for the long beach zine festWould you shoot digital?

Yeah, I’d use it to shoot more commercial stuff and mainly to get into video. I’ve really wanted to document a lot more of the things I see on video.

Do you remember the first camera you had?

The first camera I had was one that my dad gave me. It was an old Canon SLR my dad used it for years and I remember in high school our street had flooded and my camera got soaked inside my car. I remember finding it and being scared my dad might be mad at me but he always goes to swap meets and right away he got me another one. The one I use now is a Minolta he found for me. I got another lens for it and I’ve been using it all the time since then. I use a bunch of random point and shoots but the one that’s been holding on is this old Ricoh camera I found at a thrift store. I’ve gone through so many point and shoots. I push my cameras to limit and I always remember to keep an extra camera with me at all times. So when I want to be more serious I use my Minolta but I really like how flat point and shoot photos can come out. It just depends. Most of my lowrider stuff has been shot with my Minolta. I use a 28mm for the wide angles of all the cars.work_north hollywood hop contestWe noticed you get some great angles of the cars when they’re bounced way up high. How do you managed to not get smashed but still get so close? I get so caught up while taking photos that I don’t notice how close I get and I’ll be kneeling down to get a photo and before I know it the car hopped closer to me where I look up and it’s almost above me I’m like “nooooo” as a I back up as fast as I can. It’s funny to me and I know stuff can happen. I’ve heard stories and I’ve been to shows where rims have popped off and flew towards people but it’s not that bad.

Do you have a dream car?

I like Regals a lot. The G bodies always catch my eye. I always try to make sure I shoot different cars but I noticed I tend to always shoot the G bodies. I like them so much.work_watts 2Can you tell us about why you started the Sunday Shots zines?

I go to so many events every weekend that I wanted to do something with all of the Lowrider photos I was taking so I started Sunday Shots. My original concept for Sunday Shots was to create mini recap zines for each weekend. I designed the size of each one, which is a folded 11x17 poster, intentionally for portability. I wanted people to be able to stick them into their pockets easily  After a while you begin to know a lot of the people that go to these events every weekend so I kept making the zines and passing them out and wanting to make sure that the people who came out in my zines got some copies. It made them so excited and proud to see their car in print. Besides Sunday shots I had put out a few different zines that had photos of Los Angeles culture. After a while I began to focus more on documenting the Lowrider scene. valerie-j-bower-la-taco-interview-desilu-munoz-1Besides the lowrider scene what else are you into photographing?

I’m really into shooting the subcultures of LA. From the punk scene in East Los and all the back yard shows, all the surrounding Los Angeles neighbor hoods to the random Lowrider shows. I’m into gritty things and street stuff. For a while I was shooting a lot of the riot grrrl scene in LA and there were so many bands I would photograph. They would be so raw and energetic it’s different than punk but it had the same attitude.work_east la backyard punksWhat are some of your influences?

I’m into alot of Japanese street photography. Also Gusmano Cesaretti, Joseph Rodriguez, Estevan Oriol, Boogie, and Angela Boatwright. I actually assist Angela now, which is so cool. I met her around the time I was shooting the East Los punk scene. At the time I had come across this flier that had something to do with Vans. When I saw Angela's Vans episode I was blown away. I had checked out her site and saw her phone number so I just called her. It was so spur of the moment but I called her and we talked and from there I began to work with her and she’s been a mentor to me. Angela has a lot of experience and she’s shot so much she was even the photo editor for Mass Appeal. Sometimes when I go through her photos I’m like “Holy Shit these are so good!” and she’s so humble about it. Angela’s work ethic really rubbed off on me because she works non-stop and that’s her life.work_downtown la flower districtHow has the Internet and social media affected you as an artist?

It’s really cool how you can access anything on the Internet because it shows you how easily you can connect with someone. Just like that I called Angela Boatwright and since then I’ve been assisting her. It’s so easy to reach out to people you admire like the time I hit up Boogie and Estevan Oriol. They both liked my work and passed around my zines. Years ago I would've never thought I’d cross paths with them but now I have and it’s exciting. I follow a lot of people and I like to keep up with what’s going on in art and photography. I’d rather hit up the important people directly. I’d talk to the artists that are more serious and actually doing work. I want to do more and think bigger; I’m looking for longevity.work_ jaykob and his lowrider bikeWhat keeps you interested in photography and making zines?

I used to feel like my work didn’t fit in anywhere like no one wanted to see what I was shooting. Who’s going to shoot a Wilmington zine? Nobody. At the Long Beach Zine Fest I was selling my Blue Line zine which was about the train itself and a few people were really into it. To see their response when they recognized a place from my zine inspired me to want to shoot more for the people from the neighborhoods. To hear them say, “wow you’re making art out of that” that’s dope.valerie-j-bower-la-taco-interview-desilu-munoz-2What are your long term goals for photography?

I just want to keep making zines and books, I want people to see my work. Of course the goal is to always get into a gallery. Gallery people weren’t hitting me up, I sent stuff to magazines and that didn’t work so I said fuck it. I’m going to do it myself. Putting out my work and building a collection of my books and zines is what I want to keep doing. Shooting and documenting isn’t my goal because I’m already doing that and I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing whether I’m successful or not.valerie-j-bower-la-taco-interview-desilu-munoz-8work_los angeles 110 freewayvalerie-j-bower-la-taco-interview-desilu-munoz-6 valerie-j-bower-la-taco-interview-desilu-munoz-5 valerie-j-bower-la-taco-interview-desilu-munoz-7 work_chicana rapper doll-e girl zines_sunday shots fold out zine poster work_watts

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