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Jesse Lizotte’s penchant for travel and photography has been a part of his life since childhood. Migrating from the US to Australia when he was young, he already had a camera in his hands by the time he hit Sydney’s coast and hasn’t taken his finger off the shutter button since. His first solo exhibition, ‘Lowrider’, opens on May 22 in Sydney’s China Heights Gallery and we took a moment to ask him about what motivated his trip to LA and subsequent emersion in Chicano lowrider culture.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in New York City and I moved to Sydney when I was 12. I’m now 24 and bald, and a little chubby because I love pizza.

How did you get into photography?

My mum’s friend Wendy gave me a camera when I was 9 and she’d give me rolls of film to shoot. She used to give me little assignments, like one time she told me to shoot ‘passion’, whatever that meant. So I put a rose in my cousins mouth, who was a baby at the time, and took a photo. Wendy would then develop the film in a dark room and she’d make little zines for me. I thought that was really fun.

What’s your go-to equipment for shooting?

Whatever camera I have on me, I don’t have any preferences. I go through phases; sometimes I shoot digital, other times film. I really love my Contax G2 though.

What originally drew you to LA?

I went to LA early last year to visit friends. I always had fond memories of the place from when I went there on holidays as a kid.
I’ve always wanted to go to a lowrider meet, so when I finally had the chance to go, I was blown away because it was so foreign to me.
That inspired a second trip to LA late last year, with the focus of photographing people and lowriders.

What did you intend to illustrate to your audience through this photo series?

To show the lowrider culture for what it is, to people who are unfamiliar with it. It is all imagery and themes that we are used to seeing in popular culture, but I wanted to document the real shit. The people, their stories, nothing fabricated.

Why do you think lowrider culture has continued to survive in LA and Chicano culture for decades?

I think because lowriders are a part of the landscape in California and classic American cars are timeless.

How did you become friends with Pancho?

I saw Pancho at a lowrider meet in San Fernando Valley and I approached him in the crowd because he stuck out like dogs balls. I photographed him and couldn’t help but stare at his tattoos. Eventually he was more interested in me because of my accent. He asked me what the scene was like in Australia, and I told him that hydraulics are illegal. He found that perplexing because the laws in California pretty much allow you to do anything to your car.

What compels you to get so deeply involved in scenes when you’re photographing?

I’ve always been interested in people and the cultures they are a part of. Because of my background. Growing up in two different countries and being bi-racial, I’ve always considered myself an outsider so for me, the idea of belonging is an unfamiliar concept and observing people who are entrenched in cultures is what draws me in.

What’s some of the other photography you did while in the US?

Just holiday snaps of my friends and things I saw that amused me. Usually when I’m traveling there is a sense of urgency because you never know when you’re going to see the people and the places again.

You first discovered the lowrider scene in Japan. Is there a different kind of philosophy driving the culture there as opposed to LA?

In Japan, it seems to be more aesthetically driven. For example, there was a very famous lowrider car in California named ‘Santana’ that was owned by the president of the Majestics Car Club. The guy got busted in 2001 for selling drugs and the authorities auctioned off the car. Some cholos in Okinawa bought the car, pulled it apart, and studied every tiny detail. The Japanese are very good at taking outside cultures, taking it apart and making it their own thing. The lowrider scene is pretty big in Japan, but it doesn’t carry the gang stigma associated in America. Its more just about the cars.

What’s Jesse Lizotte’s next adventure?

I have plans to go to Japan and Jamaica later this year.

For more info on Jesse’s debut solo exhibition, check out the China Heights page.