MEET THE ZIMMERS OF SOUTHALL
evo Magazine Australia, May 2021 (PDF)
A project documenting the BMW car culture among the Indian community of London’s Southall is paving the way towards more visibility and compassion in automotive media.
Zimmers of Southall is a short documentary film and ongoing photo series by British-Punjabi documentary photographer, Hark1Karan (Hark). The project is a celebration of the Indian car community that thrives throughout the West London borough of Southall and their love of classic BMWs. This ongoing photography project and its short film (found on YouTube) has resonated with South Asian car lovers around the world, drawing many parallels with communities from here to Asia to the Middle East. Here, we talk to Hark, who is currently looking to turn the vignettes into a feature-length documentary, about the importance of community, visibility and that sticky glue that binds enthusiasts together.
How did Zimmers of Southall start?
A lot of my photography focuses on documenting Punjabis and Sikhs within the UK and I released a book two years ago, documenting life in Punjab, as the start point for the culture. As I’ve been telling diff erent stories, I noticed that in West London, where there is a big community of Punjabis, there was this massive car scene and everyone had a classic car – especially BMWs. It was huge – spanned up to maybe three generations. I thought this would be quite a cool story to tell as a story of modern Britain, young people, something that’s happening now that also has a link to the past. It’s also quite a cool way to humanise people as well. What did you discover about Indian car culture during the project? So a lot of people came to the UK via Africa, say from India to Kenya or Uganda, and a few other countries and so they were quite well-off . When they came here, they aspired to have a Mercedes- Benz or a BMW as a sign of status. But alongside that, there was a rich history of rally driving in Africa, so there were also a lot of mechanics who came here. So there are elements of three different things about the history of rally driving in Africa, having mechanics within the family and status – those are the key points that drove this culture to start with, and so now it spans generations.
In Australia, we also have many young South Asian car communities, which your project resonated with. As a Punjabi man, how do you see the importance of telling community stories like Zimmers?
One of the reasons that I documented this is it just shows people from diff erent cultures that, yes, their culture may be diff erent from yours, but they are still doing something that you’re doing. So another person from another culture can relate to this. I had this feedback from people all over the world, so it’s proof that people are fascinated. The thing people contact with is that they are seeing people from other cultures and they share knowledge, appreciation and they become friends. So it’s a great way to just show that there are so many similarities, but the differences are okay as well.
Whether it’s a 318i or an M3, the car is the icebreaker.
Yeah. Some of these guys don’t tend to talk that much. So their car is a way for them to connect, talk and the car is a safe space, especially if you live in a home with three generations of people. It is your space to talk, play tunes or just go for a cruise. There is a lovely overarching sense of pride that comes with classic cars, is this what you intended to draw out? Everyone likes to have a sense of belonging. So I think when you start to take interest in a specialist thing, you get to meet people that are like you – just people into cars. I think it’s important that it did not say, this is who I am or this is what we do. This is more about a way of life. And I think that’s kind of the best way. The main point was that these guys are into cars, it’s their passion.