Review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
The new breed of hot rodders refer to themselves as Traditional Hot Rodders. They have a culture all their own and they spell it Kulture, with a K. They customize their cars and they spell Kustom with a K as well. They differ from hot rodders of the past only in terminology and age; their passion for the automotive culture burns just as brightly as ours did. Their rebelliousness is just as passionate, for young or old, hot rodders hate waste, too many rules and being told they can’t do something. It confuses the old timers, who simply saw themselves as car people. Hot rodder was a negative term that was turned into a name that defined a generation. Traditional hot rodders are the younger version of the breed, so what does that make us, Original hot rodders? Then we find that there are variations of hot rodders, the grungiest of them all are the rat rodders. It’s enough to make a car guy’s mind spin. But if we can get past the terms and names, what we find is a belief and a passion that comes from the very love of cars that we had as youth. In fact, the young people of today surround us at shows and pump us for every bit of knowledge that they can get out of us to explain what it was like in the “old days.” I can’t quite decide whether to feel honored or simply old. Nevertheless, Traditional hot rodders are here and they are passionate about their cars and their lifestyle and we ought to listen to them and see what they have done with our sport. Traditional hot rodders adapted what interested them and then took from our experiences that which benefited their values. They redefine what the term Retro means. These young men and women see in the late 1930’s, ‘40’s and early ‘50’s as the Golden Age of hot rodding and they dress, live and exemplify the era. Who is there among our generation to dispute that assumption, although we know that it wasn’t all roses growing up then, just as it isn’t easy growing up today.
I’m not exactly sure how I came to know about Mitzi or her talents as a photographer and artist. I believe it was through the magazines like Ol’ Skool Rodz, Car Kulture Deluxe, Skin and Ink and Dice Magazine. Or perhaps someone mentioned it to me at the Suede Palace, an exhibit of Traditional hot rodding at the Grand National Roadster show, promoted by our good friend John Buck. The young ladies, dressed as we remember them from the post World War II era, with the flouncy skirts, puffed hair and red, red lipstick, might have told me. A large selection of vendors sported the look of the Traditional hot rodders with the typical jeans, t-shirts, and other apparel at the show. It’s hard not to reminisce and think back to a simpler and happier time. Their enthusiasm was infectious and I wasn’t the only old man to smile as these lovely ladies with the ‘40’s look took our arm and gave us that unique smile with the ruby lips. But enough of this; somehow I found Mitzi’s website while writing that story on the Suede Palace. Perhaps I should just leave her name alone. Mitzi evokes the past. It's a name that you don't hear much any more, but we all knew a Mitzi in our younger days. Her name is Mitzi Valenzuela Cardenas and she has been a photographer since she was fifteen years old. She started out doing landscape photography and looking for her particular style, to set her apart. Mitzi told me that she found that style and pays tribute to her photography instructor at Cal State Los Angeles. His name was Jack Butler and he happened to be a hot rod guy. Mitzi developed a style unique to her talents as a photographer. She embraced the ethic and heritage of the Traditional hot rodder and the pin-up girl tradition of the WWII years.
She stressed that she wasn’t the first to do pin-up photography and credits many other artists and photographers who created the art form. She mentioned many great models, and especially Betty Page, as instrumental in popularizing pin-up art. Yet we have to give special recognition to Mitzi for her innovations and for bringing back this genre in her own and unique way. She began doing pin-up photography in 2004, maturing as the rest of the Traditional Hot Rodding Kulture began to emerge and prosper. Other photographers and artist emulated her style and she has competition today, a form of great flattery for all artists. Mitzi modernizes, not mimics the pin-up art form. Young ladies, mature matrons, the ordinary and the normal, come to her for a make-over and a dream. The results are stunning. The experience is made easier for the models and the aspiring dreamers, not only because the photographer herself is a woman, but because Mitzi understands the dream that her models are reaching out for. Mitzi provides wardrobe, hair, make-up, props, cars, lighting, background and atmosphere in her studio or in the field. Mitzi is proud of her studio, which is large enough to photograph hot rods, cars and bikes in. The studio gives her the tools to create the atmosphere that the client is looking for. Mitzi is patient and pleasant. Her husband, Kirk Cardenas, works in the movie industry creating and building sets, and he provides the background for the photo shoots. It’s not quick and it’s not simple. Make-up takes time and positioning and coaching are thorough. A typical pin-up session can last three hours or more. The prices are in line with a private family photography setting that takes the same time. Mitzi does group portraits, pin-up photos, calendar pin-ups, clothing and catalogs. The finished result brings back that WWII Betty Grable image or the grittier cheesecake photos of the ‘50’s, but it is all tastefully done. At least as far as what is done today. It’s the sort of photo that you can frame and put in your bedroom or on your husband or boyfriend’s garage that you wouldn’t mind if your father or grandchildren would see.
Kustom Kulture Queens, by Mitzi, is a hardcover, coffee table book, self-published by the author. The size is 8 ½ by 11 inches and has 80 pages, with 91 photographs, all by the author/photographer. The printer, Lulu.com, used a high-quality, waxed bond paper, which shows off the pictures to their fullest. There is a one page photo credit index and another page of text. There are no captions, except for the photo credits. The author printed 1000 copies and the price is $45. You can purchase the book at Mitzi and Co, 425 W. Allen Avenue, #107, San Dimas, California 91773, or call 626-825-2442. The models were alluring and the photography was excellent. The poses showed a great deal of inventiveness, for it is in the posing that a good photograph becomes great. The attitude of the model is either brought out by the photographer or forever hidden from view. It takes a talented artist within the photographer to bring out the essence of the model that will make that picture last forever. Most of the photos reached that intense level. Strange as it may seem, for a book about pin-ups and pretty girls, I wished there was more text. Coffee table books are supposed to be weak on text and strong on photographs and visual enhancements. But they are captioned. This book lacks captions and in one respect that makes the book better, not worse, for it forces the reader to fantasize and isn’t that what a great artist is hoping for, that the reader creates their own world. Yet I wanted to know more about the artist’s mood and feelings and something about the models too. The viewer wants to be a part of the moment too. Perhaps that’s the voyeur in us all, or maybe it’s simply that we want to experience the elation that we see in the faces of the models. Another aspect is that 80 pages is simply too short a book for the subject under discussion. 160 pages would have been just about right. To cut costs and keep the budget in line, the hardcover can be changed to soft cover, as color photographs are expensive to print. Hopefully, the author will produce more Traditional Hot Rod pin-up art books in the future. It is a subject that adds to the whole experience of what it is like to be a hot rodder’s girl.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS1@JUNO.COM.
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