Framed by WDET: Places Where We Belong is a multimedia exhibition that celebrates the stories of communities with a rich legacy in Detroit.
Here, photographer Erik Paul Howard discusses the challenges of capturing his own community for the series “Rolling Canvases,” which documents low rider culture in southwest Detroit. This story was originally told to Erin Allen, Audio Producer and Narrator of Framed by WDET: Places Where We Belong, and has been edited for length and clarity.
“It’s kind of like when you have a child, and you have to re-learn how to read so that you can teach your child how to read.” - Erik Paul Howard, photographer
As a low rider myself, it was exciting working with Martina [Guzmán] on the project, because it was interesting for me to hear my friends talking to Martina, and starting all the way at the beginning. So when she would ask a question about the artwork on the car, or about process, or about cruising culture, or anything, where I might start… when we’re talking to my friends, if I was to ask them the same question, they might start where we both know things and then move on from there. With Martina, they start at the very beginning.
Hearing their responses, talking to a non-low rider, about low rider things, was exciting for me working on the project as a photographer. It’s kind of like when you have a child, and you have to re-learn how to read so that you can teach your child how to read. There was that level of excitement in hearing low rider friends talk about low-riding from a very basic perspective. I think that it informed how I was able to approach it and re-shoot some the things that I was shooting. It helped me to think about an audience that was broader than the typical low rider audience that were often sharing the photos that I was shooting with. That was how it made me feel.
A seminal work that I like to go back to is Danny Lyon’s book “The Bikeriders,” where he shot motorcycle culture in the midwest in the 60’s. And so the story goes that the movie “Easy Rider” was based on Danny Lyon’s photojournalistic work in that series. Whether it was or not, I’m not sure. But he was a member of a motorcycle club himself and also a photojournalist and so he was able to document his club members and the work that was happening from a first-person perspective. The work is so inspirational that I go back to it, probably, monthly.
Working on the project to be intentional to share the work with an audience outside of the low rider community I think forced me to relearn some things from Danny Lyon.
Framed by WDET: Places Where We Belong will be on display until July 21 at 1001 Woodward in Downtown Detroit. Admission is free.