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Low and Slow: Luke Dorsett

For as long as I could remember I always had interest in the world of lowriding. Where I grew up it was the norm to see lowered cars and trucks cruise by mi barrio. The kids at school would sneak in Lowrider magazines so we would check out the fine hynas and the flyest rides. I would even try to watch Urban films on repeat that featured these type of vehicles and learn some of the Chicano lingo… And yes I was that kid that wore dickie shorts and white tees up until high school. Eventually I realized it was more than just the cars, it was about the Chicano culture and how people can express themselves in it. From the music, to the style, and the art behind it is what stuck to me the most.

Just recently I got the chance to meet my fraternity brother Luke Dorsett who has been capturing the lowriding scene for the past 17 years. I can’t believe I didn’t know Luke sooner but once I found out who he was and what he was about, I knew I had to meet the man behind the lens. Luke had a gallery in Nogales back in December 2017 and I made the drive out just to catch the opening reception. I was blown away with the amazing photos Luke had put up for the show. Luke also held a lecture in March at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts as part of the center’s Discovery series about Japan. No doubt my brother is one of the raddest individuals I know and I was lucky to squeeze some time in for a interview.

Question: What’s your story? Where were you born and raised? How was your upbringing like?

Answer: So I was born originally in Brownsville, Texas. It’s in the Gulf of Mexico and the Southern tip of Texas. It’s also a border town to Matamoros, Tamaulipas. I had an interesting upbringing.  I basically had 2 opposite people raise me. My father didn’t graduate from Jr High, dropped out and he was a migrant farm worker. To help his parents he would go up to Idaho and pick potatoes. My mother is a PhD from Princeton and soon to be Vice President of Bennington College in Vermont. Two opposite people education level wise but as far as values they both had strong family values they instilled in me. Some of those are respect, integrity, just being a good person all around, not trying to be judgemental towards others, and be open to other people and other cultures. I was able to get a lot of exposure to different cultures and other people because when I was about 2 years old, we relocated to Princeton, New Jersey where my mom was in the PhD program and so there a lot of the children I went to school with were graduate student’s kids and a lot of them were international. So that was my first exposure to international people, cultures, and different languages. I think because of that I kind of formed or changed my brain a little bit as well because a lot of the kids I went to school with from when we first started didn’t speak English. I barely spoke English because my first language was Spanish. From there we moved to the Midwest. My mom was a professor at Notre Dame but I always wanted to come back to the Southwest and eventually we ended up here in Arizona. I graduated from Tempe High School and from there I went to ASU. As far as my upbringing I think both parents wanted the best for me, wanted me to stay out of the street stuff and not to fight. Unfortunately I can be stubborn at times, I was a pretty bad kid and I think sometimes it’s our right of passage here as Chicanos to get involved in some of the street stuff. That’s what I did for a while, snapped out if it eventually and turned things around by getting involved with school and sports.

Q: What do you currently do on your free time? How did you come about in pursuing art as a hobby?

A: These days I don’t have much of free time but I’m still doing my art quite often so I’m out there taking photos, traveling, shooting film. I stopped with the music production and DJing  for a while. I was kind of taking a break from that. Well not really a break, more like a hiatus I’d say. I do plan on coming back and making some more tunes. I also have a martial arts school in Tempe, AZ. I’m there 3 days a week so I think in my spare time I try to sleep.
I was one of those kids when I was 19 and I was working for an aerospace engineering company doing network security and systems stuff. I knew hardware and software really well. I almost dropped out of school because I was doing so well but I stuck it out. One thing I did notice is that my classes felt really boring and I was bored in the computer science classes that I was taking. I didn’t see how they apply to real life and for me that was really frustrating. So I started looking at other majors and then I decided to take a Chicano studies course. I was like whoah, this is really cool, I like it. I used to comments like “is it going to teach you how to be Chicano or something?” and I would just laugh. It was cool to me because in school they don’t teach you our history and they don’t teach you these important people, these things, and events that happened that helped shaped how current day society is especially in the Southwest. They don’t go over that and they teach you the white man’s history or the “American” history. But this is American history too and we are American also so I got really into it. Then I got into the film studies and eventually I ended up combining the two together in addition to my music interests. I always played instruments growing up. I played the violin, the guitar, so I got into the traditional Mexican music and then into the electronic music and then the fusion. I had some really good teachers for that. As far as my art goes, a lot of it is shaped by my education and my interest in my own culture that I love and I’m proud of. Lowriding is part of my culture and it’s something that I was around at a young age. That’s kind of what sparked my interest.
In regards to getting over to other countries, I studied abroad a lot and one year I went all out. I been working 3 jobs and going to school full time and saved some money. I decided I was going to take the long way home so I went to Eastern Europe and just kept going East until I made it back here. I was about a week or two late for school but I got in somehow. I was gone for a while and my last stop was Japan. That’s how I ran into lowriding in Japan. It was during my second night there and I came out of this bar drunk and there was this 64 Impala convertible with keys in the ignition. Nobody inside. I waited for 10 minutes so the dudes came out and they looked like me. Dark skin, shaved heads, baggy clothes and that’s how everything started up until this point.
(Not mentioned in the interview: Luke had acquired contact information from the car owner that night and from there networked with different Japanese locals to capture the lowriding culture in the years to come.)

Q: What are you aiming to accomplish when you go out and do your thing with photography?

A: The first important thing that I want people to see is I want them to recognize like let’s say the image but also the cultural significance of tattoos or la virgin de Guadalupe on the belt buckle or on the neck. Also to know who the people are but on top of all that I want people to see there’s sometimes or always is a backstory to this. And why there’s people that like this or why they identify with it and I’m speaking mostly about people from other countries. Why do they feel this connection to the culture and for me what I discovered it doesn’t matter if it’s in Japan, Taiwan, Chile, or Brazil. It’s something that is very spiritual and it’s deeper than the aesthetic. Yea they’re attracted to the look or the fashion of it but on top of that there is something spiritual and there’s definitely a deeper connection there. With my work, I want people to ask questions and I want it to provoke thought. When somebody looks at it I want them to say “where did you take that picture” because sometimes they may not be able to tell and I have to take pictures up there. These people don’t know if they’re Japanese or Chicano. They don’t know if I took it in Phoenix, LA, or Texas or anywhere. It makes things interesting for me when I do exhibits or when I put my work out there and people are perplexed like “how’s that going on over there” and that open up a whole other conversation. I enjoy doing that everyday and enjoy spreading the culture. It’s a huge source of cultural pride for me.

Q: Who are your role models and what kind of impact did they leave on you?

A: I have a couple of them. Bruce Lee is definitely one of my role models. My grandmaster Tae Kwon Do instructor who passed away, rest in peace, influenced me a lot. He was a very hard worker and he was an immigrant when he came to this country. He made something out of nothing. He became very successful and was a self-made man. For me I think that was very important to see somebody accomplish this against all odds. He wasn’t educated but he worked hard and he was driven. He continued to work hard and for me I thought to myself, if he can do it I can do it to. I saw it be done so it’s possible. So that gave me something like I need to work harder, push myself more, and he always pushed me. It made realize that sometimes nobody is going to do it, you have to do it yourself.

Q: Are there any goals you have left?

A: For long term goals, I have been shooting lowriders for 17 years and all over the world. It’s time for me to put a book together of all my work. Then I would release the book in multiple languages English, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, etc. so everyone can enjoy it and not just look at the pictures. I also shot a lot of material of the Japanese Yakuza tattoos and body tattoos and I want to put a book out for that too. Then my film has been steadily evolving over the years and I’ve put short versions out of it but it’s time to wrap it up this year completely with all the material from different countries. (The full version is coming out 2019)
I have some really good music I made myself, some music from Andy Gonzalez, and other artists that’s going to be in the film. Then also possibly work on some other films. As soon as I’m done with this film, I’m never doing another film all by myself anymore because it’s hard. I spend my own money, use my own equipment, my own idea, and my own editing. So it’s been hard and I’m ready to do some collaborative projects after this.

Q: If you can collaborate with anyone in the world for an art show, who would you pick and why?

A: I’ve done some group art shows and they have been very successful. I do have a friend in Phoenix named Angel Diaz I been wanting to work with. We’ve never done a show together so it would be really cool to do a show with just him. There’s also a guy named Hector Ruiz from the Chocolate Factory and I would like to do a show with him, he’s a good artist and well respected.

Q: Any life lessons learned or any advice you can give to someone who wants to follow your footsteps?

A: First thing is really envision it in your head and see that through. So I knew when I was going to Japan that I was going to find lowriders and that I was going to film and take pictures and make something from it. It doesn’t matter if it’s art or work, you have to see it that way. Next thing I would say is get some money, get good equipment so you can do it right the first time and not waste money. Be flexible because things are going to come up in your traveling and don’t get discouraged by anything. Know that things will fall into place if you envision it. Whatever you’re putting out there to the universe or whatever you believe in as far as your energy goes, optimism, that’s what you’re going to get back. So if you’re going to be negative then that’s what you’re going to get back. Also don’t waste your time with people that don’t believe in what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if they’re your friend or not. You need to go where you’re celebrated and where you’re accepted or with people that want to help you.

Q: Who’s your favorite local artist?

A: There’s a couple out there and I don’t want to put anyone down. I’d say Angel Diaz is one of my favorite artists, Lalo Cota is one of my favorite artists and Breeze.

Q: Who are some memorable people you worked with?

A: Working with MC Pancho, Cheech Marin, Danny de la Paz, and Richard Yniguez. There are other people I worked and shot together with but I wouldn’t call it a collaboration. I’d call it maybe being at the same place at the same time.

Q: What are some memorable responses you received in regards to your work?

A: I think what really stuck to me one time is when I was interviewing Cheech Marin at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA. He knew why we were talking and what the interview was about but before the interview started I said hey I want you to look at some of my photos. I ended up giving one of my photos to him and he said,”Wow! Look at this. Where was this taken?” I said Nagoya, Japan. He said,”man this guy looks like he could be in El Monte or something…” That was really cool because that made me think that he thinks it’s authentic just by looking at it.
Another one would be with Richard Yniguez who saw my film when I did it at the Art of Lowriding. I showed a short feature and he was almost speechless in a good way. He wanted to talk more and this was one of the missing pieces of the puzzle because he was in the movie Boulevard Nights. I wanted to talk to this guy and he wanted to talk to me so I was like wow, this works out. It fell into place and it took years because I didn’t know how to find him or get a hold of him.

Q: Is there anything you remember from your undergrad years at ASU, for example with the fraternity and did it leave any impact on you?

A:  I would definitely say that it did. Any of the brothers that I had in the fraternity, they’re still my brothers, and that’s stuff that you can’t ever change. That experience that you have, growing up and going to school with… graduating. Those are memories of a lifetime that you’re always going to have and nothing can take that away. I’m actually glad that I was apart of Tau Psi Omega Fraternity during my undergrad. It helped shaped me as far as my academics and being serious about a lot of things like responsibilities in life even though I wasn’t the most responsible or serious person in my class. I think it’s important and I wouldn’t take it back.

Q: What is your dream car?

A: I already have my dream car. I have a 64′ Impala Super Sport coupe. It’s something I’ve worked for a long time and I’m enjoying it. If I would get another car it would probably be a 48′ Chevy Fleetline coupe.

Q: Any finals thoughts you want to share?

A: Whatever your goal is, focus on it and stick to it. Some goals take longer than others but if you keep going at it you’ll accomplish it. The other thing is when you’re young, you can go to bars it can be real easy to drink a lot. Don’t waste your money, don’t drink your money away. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on a old car. Something you can chauffeur later and you’ll be proud of it. Same thing goes for drugs, a lot of people party and do that crap. Think about the money you’re spending, you can really spend it on something better and save yourself some health problems in the future. Take care of your mind and energy, guard it. Don’t associate with toxic people. Just work hard towards your goals and stay disciplined.

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