Estevan Oriol Interview
Estevan is just an all around awesome dude. He’s traveled the globe touring with legendary musicians like House of Pain and Cypress Hill. He’s met some of the biggest celebrities imaginable, actors and musicians, and shot some of the hottest women you could only dream about. He’s as raw and straight up as the street life he’s so well known for photographing. Unfortunately, professional photographers have taken a beating over the past decade, especially those working in film. Estevan is pushing on nevertheless. So, put your Instagram away for the next 30 minutes and listen to Estevan’s years of wisdom and enjoy some pretty rad film photography. He’s the last of an amazing, but dying breed, of real photographers.
Can you tell me about your dad’s influence on you growing up with photography?
He was doing the photography thing like in the early 80’s and maybe the late 70’s, I’m not sure. Then, around the early 90’s he kind of stepped away from it, and started painting. I was tour managing House of Pain, and low- riding a lot, and he told me, “Hey, I think you live in a cool environment right now with your touring with these guys, being backstage with them and other groups, the places you’re going to see, and the whole low-riding thing. I think it’d be cool if you captured those moments on film.” He gave me a camera he wasn’t using anymore, and gave me like a five minute crash course and I just started taking pictures here and there. Then the more I saw the pictures I was taking, the more I liked it. I just started shooting more and more.
You did a show back in November with your dad. What was that experience like after all these years?
We’d done one in L.A. first, and it was a great experience to be able to do something with my dad, to do a show together and have people come out and get the reaction that we got. It was great doing it while we’re both alive because a lot of people don’t get to do that, and it was a cool experience because we could both make the rounds if we had to. This show started out in L.A., like father like son with the Carmichael Gallery, and went great the first night. We had a great turnout going to New York, but kind of had some problems, because the storm Sandy had come the week prior to our show. We had already been promoting and everything, so we had to try and throw an event where they just had devastation happen.
It was kind of a risky thing for us, but we’d gotten the tickets, the hotels and time out of our calendars long before the storm was even coming. The day before we were supposed to have it, they announced that our flight had been canceled and that there was another storm coming, so we had to postpone the show one more day. We ended up flying out the next day after the second storm, went to the show, and it was great. A lot of people came out. At least like a third of the city was still without electricity, so a lot of people didn’t even know we were doing the show. It was a great night, a lot of people came and showed support, saw the art, and you know, it worked out great.
What are you working on now? Books, movies?
Yeah, I’m doing a couple more books and I got a couple of documentary ideas that are being shopped around for funding. I’m doing two books. One on street life right here in L.A., like my hood shots, and then another one, L.A. Woman Part Two.
You shoot tons of stuff. What would you say you like to shoot most these days?
I like shooting my traveling experiences, wherever I go. Of course, shooting the hood over here in L.A. is fun, and the women. That, or music, so everything I like I get to shoot, which is pretty cool. I don’t shoot weddings, bar mitzvahs, or products, shit like that.
You did a shoot in Brazil with models for a brand client, how was that?
That was cool. Originally, I went down there with Cypress Hill when I was tour managing. We did a couple shows down there, then I went back and promoted my book there. I went to São Paulo for five days, and Rio de Janeiro for 20 days, I shot a lot of stuff. When I went down there I was like, “Oh, man. I need to come back here,” but I kind of was trying to figure out a good way to go back. I was thinking, “Man, it’d be cool to have a clothing company do some shoots down here.” My own company is too small, so I just thought of everyone that I work with, and the first one I went to was T.I.T.S. They were like, “Oh, we’re down. Let’s do this.” So we planned it for a year, went back and knocked it out. We shot 13 girls in 10 days, and the 10 days also included two travel days going there and back, so we had 8 days to shoot 13 girls all over the city of Rio. The first couple of days was meeting girls, and picking them, and then we just started shooting. There was like, a day, where we ran out…well, not ran out of girls, but we’re like, “Okay, we need a couple more girls.” So, we went out, met some more, and then those next few days shot them, and it was perfect.
You don’t have to name anyone, but have you ever had a difficult shoot with anyone, or anyone that really kind of pissed you off during the shoot?
Oh, yeah. People that show up four hours late, like rappers and shit. They’re at the mall just doing stupid shit, you know? If you need to go to the mall for four hours to look pretty, that’s cool, but don’t make an appointment to do a photo shoot, you know? It’s kind of disrespectful. It was the man-divas… That’s pretty close to working with products.
Have you ever been asked to delete photos, or asked for photos by the police?
Never been asked for photos by the police, but I’ve been asked to delete photos before.
Was it by the client or just the situation?
By the client. It was a high end celebrity, A-lister and his wife. That’s part of the deal, you know. You have to meet up with his wife after you shoot each card out and show her. I had to go sit like, in the back room with her, and she would tell me as we go through each picture, ‘delete that one, delete that one, keep this, delete those two.’ But, you know, it was one of the requirements of that job, so it’s okay.
You got started with photography back in the 90’s, can you give us a brief history of where you’ve seen photography go, from your start up until now?
Back when I was shooting two elements, which was a low-rider lifestyle culture here in L.A. or the hip hop culture, there weren’t that many people doing it. Everything was being shot on scene, so when I would be on tour with these bands going around countries and different places, most of the time I would be the only person with a camera throughout the whole tour. There would be people coming the day of the shows, you know, to take pictures of the bands for interviews or magazines, or to get live shots for the daily newspaper, but for the most part, I was the only one with a camera backstage. I was on the inside. There’s a lot of things I missed because I wasn’t approaching it as a photographer, I was approaching more as like a tour manager.
Most photographers they’re like, “Oh, I’m going to see a band today. I’m going to see Cypress Hill, so I’m going to shoot them onstage and then we’re doing an interview, so I’m going to shoot them backstage in whatever location.” At that time I was rolling with Cartoon all the time, so I was always with the muralist too. He started tattooing at the same time I started shooting pictures, so I was pretty much there for every tattoo. That was the kind of content I was getting without even trying to know about it. I should have got way more. I just wasn’t coming at it from a photographer’s state of mind.
Is it fair to say that’s what helped your work grow in popularity and made it so intriguing to everyone, because you were bringing more of an in-depth view of these subcultures that people in middle America knew nothing about?
Yeah. Definitely. I was showing them from the inside, and I was places they couldn’t be. It was special. Now, if you were to go on tour, every single bus either has a camera and a videographer, or every bus has one guy that can shoot photos of them backstage, onstage, shoot video, be edited that night, and uploaded for the YouTube page the next morning. Now it’s like a machine.
You know, if you go out there to the low-riding events, like, I’ll go to Crenshaw Boulevard on Sundays, everybody comes and they go hopping and stuff. There used to be one or two guys that would do videos, you know like Young Hogg and these other guys that do the low-riding videos, but now you go out there and it’s like almost as many guys with cameras as without them. I go to a rap show and there’s going to be 50 people with 5D’s in the front row, while the whole audience has their phones out. It’s not special anymore.
Doesn’t it kind of piss you off that with the advancement of all these digital cameras, and like you just said, it seems like everyone who picks up a camera now considers themselves a photographer. I mean, it’s got to be frustrating for you to see so much watered down photography.
Oh, f*ck yeah I get pissed off. Though, what good does it do? I’m the only one feeling it. It’s like me drinking a poison and wanting them to get sick. It doesn’t do any good. My head’s about to pop, and everybody else is running around clicking their heels, smiling, taking pictures of shit. You have to make all those feelings do something for you. I know people that just get pissed off and that’s all they get, and it’s just like pumping their brakes. They’re so caught up in being pissed off that they don’t get shit done. They’re just like f*cking angry and hateful you know, losing their mind. I try to flip it to where I can use that to drive me, you know?
I have my own style, and so I’ve seen a lot of the youth coming out, and they’re imitating my style you know, and going after my imagery. At first I’d get mad about that, like man, all these people biting me and stuff; biting my style. But, then I thought, “Well, I’m the one that put it out there and made it look so good, so how can I not expect somebody to want to adapt it to their style and to what they do?”
I have people asking if I can do photo shoots for them for 1,000 bucks. You know the budgets are like $25,000 and up. I laugh, too. Then I think, “Man, I’m over here laughing and all these youngsters are going, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it for a thousand bucks.’ I only need to get paid $100.” That shit is a joke. You know? I’m used to being paid at least 10G’s to do a photo shoot like that. They’re trying to pay me a grand? Like, they’ve lost their f*cking mind.
Do you ever miss the days of being a tour manager for Cypress Hill?
Sure. I was living a five star lifestyle, and I wasn’t paying for it. I was staying at the best hotels, eating good food, making good money, my weekly salary was good, and I was traveling the world. The perks of rolling with the rock stars, you know? The only bad thing about touring, is not touring. That’s the only time you don’t get paid.
You know for me, it wasn’t like all these other tour managers. Most tour managers, while they’re on one tour they’re trying to hustle and book another tour with other bands, and never get to be able to establish a relationship. Whereas I knew how to hang with Cypress Hill before I went out on the road with them. Being out on the road was just like a group of brothers you know? We’re all out there just having like, a party bus of brothers rolling around the f*cking United States, Europe, or all around the world. I was never a tour manager of a bunch of bands. I tour managed four bands in my tour managing days, then all that shit ended.
I know you shoot other action, but you’re most well known for your lifestyle and portraiture/studio work. You also used to skate and have shot tons of skaters like Jereme Rogers, P-Rod, T.K., Stevie Williams. Do you find skating to be more difficult to shoot than the street life stuff?
For me shooting everything is the same. I’m just shooting something that I like, so it’s full of love for me, whether it’s skateboarding, fighting, surfing, sexy girls, music fans, or low-riding. All that type of shit, I like. My first board was a Black Knight. It had clay wheels.
Marina Del Rey was the place where Dogtown came out of. Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Christian Hosoi, Tony Hawk, and Gator were down there, as well as the Hackett brothers. So, a lot of legendary skaters came out of there, and then when they closed it, it was a bummer for a lot of people, there wasn’t much to do. It wasn’t like today’s street skating, because the skateboards were different. The wheels were bigger, they were softer, they were higher off the ground, so they weren’t doing all those tricks that they’re doing now. More like just skating around the flat ground, or little banks, wherever you could find a bank or go downhill. Eating shit on some of those hills wasn’t too fun. It rips off half of your hands, or the side of your face, or your elbows and shit. Crash at like 40, 50 miles an hour. Then, I got into dirt bikes and surfing, until I had to start working and all that shit stopped.
You’ve done a bunch of stuff with Snoop Dogg. It looks like he’d be a lot of fun to work with?
Yeah, he’s real cool and mellow. He jokes all the time. He’s a lot of fun to work with, he’s down. Some artists out there, they’re control freaks. The most successful ones out there, they’ll let you be…all the other guys, they got successful by being control freaks. They want to control every little thing. They don’t let people really express themselves and do their thing. We just showed up and he was like, “Whatever you want to do homie, let’s do it.” We got ready, and I shoot pretty fast, I don’t sit there and drag it out or bullshit people. If you’re good at what you do, you just get it.
Would you still rather shoot film over digital?
Oh, hell yeah. I hate shooting digital. You know, back in the day when porn came out, and it looked cheap, but like real clear, crispy and colorful, they were just like how real movies look. Porn came out and it was just like, “Oh, f*ck.” It looked so tacky, and crystal clear, and the colors were in your face. That’s kind of what digital looks like to me. A lot of people don’t know how to work the cameras, so you shoot every single thing in focus. Then, the color is just like, blasting. Some people add HDR effects and all that shit. Just take good pictures and you won’t need all that.
If I try to just shoot my picture, it is what it is. If you had a f*cking zit that day, then you shouldn’t have been stressing out, or eating chocolate the day before your photo shoot. I don’t do all the little tricks on my pictures. I guess there’s still a lot of people that argue and say, “Well, you should, because everybody else is and their shit looks perfect.” You’ve got to keep up, but I’d rather just shoot it how it is you know, that’s real.
Do you ever wake up and think, “Holy shit, even if nothing else happens from here out, I’ve done it, I’ve made a name for myself?
Oh, yeah. I always think about that. You know, sometimes the street gets pretty f*cking rough. Sometimes you work a lot, sometimes you don’t. I’ve gone three months without working once. In the peak of it, when I had a lot of hot shit going on, I went for three months without doing one job. Luckily, I wasn’t an idiot with my money, and I stretched it out to go for those three months. When I got a new job, it kept the ball rolling, but about the second month I was thinking, “F*ck man, is my time up? Did enough people come in and start molesting my style? Who needs the old guy anymore?”
If it all ended now, and there came a point where I had to make a decision and say, “Hey, I had a good run, I did great but, I need to get a job.” For me personally, I think I did great. I might not have been an award-winning photographer. Though, I have album covers, I shot some musicians, and I shot some sick actors that I never thought I would ever even meet, let alone get to take their picture. I’ve also gotten to travel the world doing my photography, not just touring with Cypress Hill. My photography took me around the world, I put out a couple books and I was like, “I’m doing it.”
You know, when you’re an artist you have all these f*cking head trips, and start doubting yourself. Artists I know doubt themselves. I’m never satisfied. I always push myself the most. You know, when you’re a freelancer, it’s like every day you don’t have a job, so every day you’re out there pushing yourself, selling yourself like a little hooker.
You’ve got four kids, have they shown any interest in photography?
My son, my youngest daughter, and my one grandson, he’s three. We always go around and take pictures, and he’s all, “Grandpa look. Grandpa look. Look it. Look.” He’s taking pictures, and he takes his little legs and like, he gets in a stance, and he does like these poses to take a picture.
Every time you take a picture, he wants to see it. He goes, “Let me see. Let me see.” He’s a trip that kid, you know, it’s kind of sad that kids will never have film or have to wait to see their pictures. You just carry around a couple hundred thousand pictures on a USB drive. Carry your iPad around and be like, “Hey, check out my pictures on your phone.” Some aspects are cool, because you got it right there. But I don’t know, there’s just something about rolls of film, and negatives, and big prints.
Well, that’s about a wrap. One last question, to all the kids picking up cameras and to the ones who aren’t even thinking about doing anything with their life right now, what do you have to say in closing? Any advice?
Yeah. Don’t plan on making a living at it. It’s a market that’s fully saturated. Don’t expect to make money out of it. It’s a great, great hobby. If you can make some money out of it, that’s great. I had to change, the game’s changed, it’s not the same anymore. I also noticed too, that a lot of kids who went to school for it and have like, these bachelor’s degrees, they tend to get jobs. It helps them get into the inner circle a little bit better if they have that certificate, or that status that they’ve been to college.
There’s a lot of guys that are good, but they have no hustle in them. They don’t know how to get themselves a job. They know how to take a great picture. You could be the best motherf*cker in the world, but if you ain’t got that shit about you, then nobody cares.
Interviewed By: AB