Cruising Van Nuys Boulevard
Photographs From The Summer of 1972

by Rick McCloskey on Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Cruising had flourished for nearly two decades on Van Nuys Boulevard, Whittier Boulevard and on countless other streets and avenues in cities and towns across America, but in the year 1972 there was a visible resurgence in this youthful evening pastime. The darkest days of Vietnam were then mostly behind us. Activity on the boulevards across the USA spiked markedly for young Americans. With the monthly ‘draft’ numbers now down significantly and our military presence in Vietnam being reduced daily, young people, especially young men, were once again able to enjoy the freedom and the fun of youth without the great foreboding that had accompanied turning 18 years of age during the previous half-dozen tumultuous years. One could feel a great lightening of spirit—and this was nowhere more evident than on Van Nuys Boulevard at night. Cruising was back, big-time!

Purely by happenstance, I discovered the new resurgence and wonderful energy levels of the evening car culture on Van Nuys Boulevard during the late spring of 1972. Since I had just completed several years of photography in the Art Department of California State University at Northridge, I now had the photographic skills I would need. It was an easy step to assign myself the task of capturing what I could of the essence of the boulevard scene with a camera. This might also be great fun, after all, I grew up cruising that boulevard.

Wednesday night was ‘cruise night,’ I knew this very well from my days at Van Nuys High School in the early sixties. The photos in my series were mostly shot on Wednesday nights, but a few were also grabbed on Friday and Saturday nights. Although I personally had not participated in the boulevard scene since the beginning of 1966, I knew it well, and it was remarkably easy to feel right at home again on the street. Fortunately, I was also still in the boulevard demographic—albeit barely—mid-twenties with long hair, facilitating my easy acceptance by all on the street, allowing me to closely approach my subjects. My photos show this well.

Shooting photos of young people during cruise nights on Van Nuys Boulevard, I should say, was not at all like the difficult and often risky business of shooting photos of people ‘on the street’ in everyday life as so many photographers work very hard at doing, and where many potential subjects react adversely—even angrily. Literally everyone on the boulevard at night was there to see and be seen, and this made for relatively easy shooting. Perhaps it was more akin to shooting pictures at a large sporting event where everyone expects to be ‘on camera’ and they are not at all bothered by it. Indeed, many of my subjects would play for my camera; they very much wanted to be on stage, to perform and to be photographed. Due to the absolute ease of approaching my young subjects, I was able to take my time and concentrate on composition and on timing.

Also, I deliberately worked at getting people to look directly at my camera, basically waiting for individual people, and groups of people, to notice me pointing a camera at them before I took the shot. Occasionally I got lucky when everyone in a group looked right into my lens! Very cool. And without the worry of anyone reacting unpleasantly, I could wait for the best instant to push the button. It was a gift, and I preferred to concentrate on making images of the people more than images of their cars.

From a purely technical standpoint, all of these images were made on 35mm Kodak Tri-X black and white film, ASA 400, which I pushed to either ASA 800 or even ASA 1200 during developing, all of which I did myself. Since I did not use a flash at any time, and the available light on the street was often very minimal, I needed to ‘hand-hold’ my camera for very long exposures. Some pictures were shot at 1/2 second! Many shots were exposed at 1/8th of a second, and some at faster, slightly more normal, shutter times. Most of the time I used a 28mm wide-angle lens, which gave me better focus and at least some depth of field under the prevailing low-light conditions. All in all, even with subject and camera movement, plus graininess in the pictures, I was happy to have accomplished a surprising visual record of the cruising nightlife and wonderful young people on Van Nuys Boulevard during the warm summer nights of 1972. The best of my Van Nuys negatives have now been digitally scanned and electronically saved.

Some of these images were exhibited at the Cal State Northridge Art Department Gallery in 1973, but most have not been published or presented until now. Forty-seven years have passed, and most of the beautiful kids in the photos are now approaching sixty years of age, a few are even older!

Cruising does not happen anymore, it is gone, probably forever. These photos and fine memories are what are left. Enjoy.

Richard ‘Rick Mack’ McCloskey

See the entire Cruising Van Nuys Boulevard Collection

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