“Slow & Low” Celebrates Chicago’s Vibrant Lowrider Subculture

Posted inDesign Books

When you live in Los Angeles, as I do, chances are you’ll brush up against lowrider culture sooner or later. My exposure has come at Elysian Park on the east side, a stone’s throw from Dodgers Stadium. Throngs of people will gather with coolers, speakers, and souped-up cars that gleam in the sun and back traffic up for blocks. But unlike most LA traffic, this gridlock is worth it, with the cars serving more as works of art than automobiles and the joy radiating from the scene offering a palpable window into a rich subculture in the city.

Lowrider culture is far from specific to Los Angeles, with vibrant pockets represented around the country. The nonprofit lowrider organization Slow & Low recently published a retrospective book of the same title, the first formal documentation of the lowrider community in Chicago. In partnership with Nick Adam’s team at the design studio Span, Slow & Low was created with the utmost thought and care to showcase the photographic archive of twelve years of the nonprofit’s events and festivals. In addition to its gorgeous and vibrant imagery, the book features essays from Slow & Low co-founder and curator Lauren M. Pacheco and ethnographer, cultural critic, and professor Dr. Ben Chappell.

Span took on the design of Slow & Low with the imperative that every detail and aspect of the book must somehow reflect lowrider culture. They worked closely with Pacheco and her co-founder, Peter Kepha, to ensure they achieved this, from the editorial considerations to the page layouts and materials.

The book’s grid, for example, creates an elaborate page sequencing system that balances variation and repetition, creating perspective shifts and contextual relationships. From page to page, the photo compositions create a filmic cadence where motion, zooming, and surrounding angles evoke the sensation of cruising.

Lowrider culture is about far more than cars, and Slow & Low aptly reflects that. Beloved community photographers shot the 112-page photo archive presented throughout the book with a firsthand understanding of the culture, offering an intimate and authentic insider’s perspective. The range of photos depicts lowriding as a way for individuals and the community to have a voice of creativity and pride, featuring waving Mexican flags, airbrushed Aztec symbols, and folklórico performances in the background, to name a few.

The photos have been curated and sequenced by Span and then printed in full color with a spot gloss varnish on high-gloss coated paper. This meticulous process better reflects the look of the candy-colored cars on display, a nod to the vibrant aesthetics of lowrider culture. The effect also feels like a family photo album. The book’s front and back are printed with silver ink on natural paper to contrast the glossiness of the photos. The silver ink has a reflective quality inspired by the engraved chrome of lowrider cars and viclas.

The book’s body copy is set in Canela, designed by Miguel Reyes at Commercial Type. Each column of the Canela text baselines to the bottom of the page and rises to hit different heights meant to represent the hydraulic bounce of a lowrider. The display type is Respira, designed by Lucas Sharp with Wei Huang at Sharp Type. Respira was inspired by blackletter, which is a signature lettering style in lowrider and Chicano cultures.

Meanwhile, the Slow & Low front and back covers also feature the blackletter style, stamped in white foil on a black textile texture. The form is reminiscent of the letter-based tattoos that read top-to-bottom on many forearms within the lowrider community. This style also pays homage to the way churches often depict text, given the importance of faith within those in the lowrider community.

The book is stitched with myth-sewn binding to open flat, allowing you to immerse yourself in each photo fully. It concludes with a series of 360 silver ink photo booth photos featuring over 1,000 members of Chicago’s lowrider community, all taken at the 2022 Slow & Low festival at Navy Pier.

Concept, Design Direction, Design, Content Collection & Curation: Nick Adam

Design: Grace Song and Cheryl Kao

Printing: OGM

Writers: Lauren M. Pacheco and Dr. Ben Chappell

Curators: Lauren M. Pacheco, Peter Kepha, and Edward Magico Calderon

Photographers: Carmen Ordonez, Carolina Sánchez, Don’t Get Shot, Edward Magico Calderon, Fernando Ruiz, Katrina Nelken, Manuel Lagunas, Manuel Velasco, Max Herman, Mike Pocious, Nick Lipton, Peter Kepha, Sebastián Hildalgo, and Nick Adam