Imaginative, Eccentric, Genuine, Unique, Distinctive, Master
Before the creation and inception of Lowrider Magazine in 1977, there was not a single publication on the market dedicated to Lowriding. In the early 1960’s, Lowriding enthusiasts would take photographs of their own cars, as well as other vehicles at the various car shows being held at the time, in order to document the era. A lot of the photos of these early days were taken with consumer grade cameras, usually the Polaroid instant camera models, which yielded mediocre results. Thankfully, some photos were taken with professional grade cameras by people who not only had a passion for the cars, but a passion for photography as well. Howard Gribble is one of those select individuals who shared an equal passion for these two pastimes during the 1960s, and he never missed the chance to document this unfolding of Lowrider history.
Howard Gribble was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, and he relocated with his family to the South Bay area of Los Angeles, California when he was just 8 years old. While in junior high school, Howard started to notice cars in the area with scallop paintjobs, pinstriping, and flamed paintjobs. As a young artist, he started drawing pictures of the cars he saw on notebook paper. By the time he was in high school, custom cars dominated his interests, and collecting car magazines became yet another hobby for young Howard. It would not be long before he would begin working on his first automobile.
At 15 years old he got his first car, a 1950 Ford sedan, which he quickly customized by shaving the door handles and removing the emblems. Howard was going for the “George Barris” style that was very popular at the time. With limited money, the schoolboy’s project never really took off. A few years later, however, Howard did some custom work on his 1961 Ford Starliner. Shortly after the car got a custom paintjobs, it was tragically wrecked after a careless driver ran a red light and hit Howard.
In the mid-1960s, Howard purchased a Polaroid camera to take photos of his different interests. He always took photos here and there, so it was only natural that after a while he would want to upgrade his equipment. Howard purchased a 35mm camera, and started to attend car shows in the Southern California area on a regular basis. Since there were no magazines covering the Lowriders or the custom car scene, Howard took his camera to the shows and photographed the cars for his own personal enjoyment.
One day at work in 1966, Howard mentioned to a co-worker that he wanted to buy a late model or newer car, spray it down with custom paint, and put hydraulic lifts on the car. The co-worker commented, “Oh, you mean a Lowrider?” That was the first time Howard heard the term Lowrider, he had always heard the cars referred to as “cruisers” or “Bellflower-Style” cars. In April of 1967, Howard bought a brand-new 1967 Chevy Impala SS, and within two weeks, the Impala was in a local shop getting lifted by a guy named Red. After the hydraulics installation was done, Howard’s friend painted it metal flake fuchsia. To complete the car, Howard picked up a set of rims at Mr. M’s on Rosecrans. Howard drove it around for a while before Dave Kent in Venice, California, added lace patterns to the car. A young man, who was working out of Dave’s shop by the name of Walt Prey, worked his magic to pinstripe the car.
In due time, Howard was a regular participant at the shows in the Los Angeles area. Not only was he showing off his Chevy, he was taking photos at the show of the other cars on display. Various show promoters like RG Canning, Bob Shrimp, and ISCA were hosting shows at the Great Western Forum, the Los Angeles Sports Arena, and the Long Beach Convention Center during this time. Howard kept the ’67 Impala for about a year after he completed it before ultimately selling it with the intention of buying a 1969 Impala. When the 1969 Impalas arrived at the dealerships in the fall, Howard paid a visit to Cormier Chevrolet but did not like what he saw. It was time to move onto “plan b,” which was to locate a Buick Riviera. A few weeks later, Howard located and bought a 1966 Riviera. Almost immediately, Howard contacted Dick Sellers of the well-known Dick & Ron team to install hydraulics in the Buick. From Dick’s shop, the Buick went to Bill Carter’s shop in Van Nuys, California. Bill did a full metal flake in fuchsia and silver with “vailing” over the silver and fogged the highlights. Walt Prey was once again called upon to stripe this car. Being a Buick, Howard thought it should have OG Buick Skylark wire wheels. There were no reproductions at the time, so he had to round up five old originals. After spending around $200, he dissembled them, chromed the pieces, and then had a guy in Signal Hill, California, named Joe Worsey lace them up. Joe was the go-to man for that sort of thing, and he took them home and worked on the wheels while watching TV.
Photography was quickly becoming an art form rather than a hobby for Howard, so he purchased some pro-level Nikon bodies and lenses. Howard’s increasingly consuming interest in photography, and his desire to learn how to fly a plane forced him to sell his Buick. He stopped Lowriding around 1970, and with the proceeds from the sale of the Buick, he pursued flying lessons. In 1973, he got his pilot’s license and bought and restored a World War II-era SNJ plane. It came out of a junkyard in Japan and was restored to original condition. Howard described it as “the aircraft version of a Lowrider Bomb.”
Around the same time Howard was restoring the plane and taking his flying lessons, he started to notice a lot of gang graffiti around his neighborhood and in other areas of Los Angeles he frequented. There were a lot of different styles of graffiti being painted on the walls. He felt that the graffiti would be an ideal medium to document, and maybe publish a book about it someday. While documenting the gang graffiti, Howard was very discrete and shot most of the images from his car. He called this method “the drive-by” method. Sometimes he didn’t even stop rolling. Most of the photos documenting the gang graffiti photos were taken between 1970 and 1975. As with his photos of Lowriders, Howard has quite a collection of gang graffiti photos.
Around 1986, Howard sold the plane; it was time to devote his time to other interests. Never one to be idle, Howard kept busy throughout the years and traveled extensively. He has visited almost every state in the U.S., and has also visited some foreign countries. As a man of many interests, Howard has been involved in art projects of some kind for most of his life.
In 1996, Lowrider Magazine put out a call for old photos for an upcoming book on the history of Lowriding. Howard responded to the request, and soon was in contact with Dick Deloach, who was helping the magazine with the project. Howard submitted photos for the project, and when the book was published in 2003, the majority of the photos in the book that pre-dated the publication of Lowrider Magazine were Howard’s. Howard was credited in the book as the “The Lowrider Historian.” Although the history book sold well, Howard’s photos were still only seen by a limited audience. At the time of the publication of the book, photo hosting sites on the internet were rapidly becoming popular. People were uploading their photos by the millions on a daily basis to photo hosting sites like Photobucket, Web Shots, and Flickr.
Howard signed up for the photo hosting site Flickr in 2006, and he started to scan and upload his photographs of gang graffiti. After he was done uploading his gang graffiti photos, he uploaded his photos of cars that he amassed over the past 30 years. I, too, signed up for Flickr around the same time, and after doing a search on Lowrider photos, found Howard’s photos. I, like many have done to this day, went through all of the photos Howard uploaded, and could not believe what he had documented throughout the years.
Howard’s photo stream on Flickr has attracted plenty of attention for his amazing work. He has been interviewed, and had his gang graffiti photos featured in numerous graffiti magazines and websites throughout the world. In early 2009, Swindle Magazine did a feature on Howard and his gang graffiti photos. Howard was photographed by acclaimed fellow photographer Estevan Oriol for the feature. In the September 2009 issue of this magazine, Howard contributed to a new section in the magazine called “Lowrider Retro.” Before Howard joined Flickr, only about half a dozen people had seen Howard’s collection of photos. Now, because of Flickr, millions have seen his photos.
As a photographer who has been able to shoot photographs in both the film and digital mediums, I had to ask what his opinion was on the ever popular film-versus-digital debate. Howard responded, “Film is in the past for me, there is no comparison, and I have no nostalgia for film.” Thankfully, Howard did have nostalgia for his photos, and luckily for the world, he pulled them from storage and uploaded them to Flickr. Without Howard’s photos, many of today’s young Lowriders would not be able to see these rare glimpses into the early years of Lowriding.