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ART: Estevan Oriol

Featured in Freestyle Volume 05 2008. Interview by Cristian Diaz. Photography by Estevan Oriol.

When Estevan Oriol stares in your direction you feel it. And it’s not necessarily because you’re in his frame of view, but like the photos that have made him such an acclaimed photographer it’s all about the intensity. The heavy eyed business partner/best friend to Mister Cartoon’s Ying, Estevan provides the Joker brand’s Yang with an underlying tone of authenticity and rawness when capturing the Blood’s gang laundry that’s casually out to dry, by photographing the South-Central Chicanos covered in tattoo suits and rolling with the low riders through the streets of South-Central L.A, burning it’s images of documentation onto a format that can be safely viewed from the comfort of your own sofa.

A non-conventional kind of artist, Estevan was first known in the L.A. scene as a no bullshit 6 foot 2 club bouncer and band manager for groups like House Of Pain and Cypress Hill. Oblivious to the talent he possessed until 1995, when his father, who was also a photographer in the 80’s, gave him his first camera and told him to document his own life with it. Advice that was immediately placed into practice whilst on tour with his groups. Estevan’s portfolio of work prospered from the random shots of insane tour bus moments with Cypress Hill, to capturing L.A. gang members whilst risking his own life in rival crossfire, to immortalising freshly inked Hip-Hop artist like 50 Cent, Dr. Dre and Eminem.

Evolving into a different avenue of work, Estevan has also realised a passion for a more fluid style of documentation with his exploits as a film and music video director, working with various artist that include The Reyes Brothers, Xzibit and Blink 182. Such was the hype surrounding his newly honed skills, Universal Pictures had no hesitations in signing him up to direct the biographical movie of Cartoon’s life. Along with his representation of SA Studios, which is a creative agency that helps young aspiring artists from the Latino/Hispanic community and the highly anticipated releases of his three coffee table books Ink, Adidas 1979 and East of Havana, Estevan soldiers on the daily battle for L.A.’s authentic fabric, providing the armoury the only way he knows how, with a testimony of photos that cannot be torn nor replicated.

Estevan, at last we see the man behind the camera finally in front of it, so like I first asked Cartoon, tell me who Estevan Oriol was before he became Estevan Oriol the brand?
I was always me which means being original. I always shot my original style of photos, directed my own style music videos and done the original designs for our clothing.

Was Cypress Hill the catalyst of Estevan Oriol the photographer?
No I started before I worked with Cypress Hill when I was touring with 'House of pain' and Low riding. My dad gave me my first camera, he was a photographer in the 80’s and he did street and fashion flicks but then put the camera down to paint. Later on when I showed him the types of photographs I was taking he went into his old files and showed me his street life stuff and we ended up doing a street life show together at Shepard fairey’s gallery.

You would've documented a lot of crazy shit with your camera. When you were on tour with Cypress, what were some of the things you vatos got up to whilst on the road?
Going out and hanging out with girls, a lot of time people would ask us to go to their neighborhoods so I would see lots of different areas. I have been wild bore hunting in Hawaii, been through the shanty towns of South Africa and the Favelas in Brazil, the trench towns of Jamaica, the grimey council flats in England, the catacombs in Vienna, all over Japan and of course back to the sick streets of Los Angeles. 44 countries and every state a few times over.

At first glance you can be an intimidating presence, so how is it that you can capture such raw and intimate moments with your camera without disrupting the environment?
By being quiet, respectful, laying in the cut, staying out of the way and watching my subject very closely.

So can you ever just chill and relax with your homies or are you always aware of having your camera around and constantly looking for the next perfect shot?
Being from the streets of Los Angeles I am always aware of my surroundings and I am constantly on the look out for the next perfect shot. At the same time I can always hang out and have fun with my homies, it’s called multi tasking.

With knowing your surroundings so well you seem to extract a certain purity with your urban style of photography, why does the L.A. street life appeal to you? And is it the sole inspiration behind all your work?
I’ve lived in L.A. all of my life so that’s what I know best and this is where it all started for me.

How did you get into directing videos? Was it a natural progression from photography for you, or is it a completely separate art form?
It was a natural progression for me and it’s a completely different art form, because instead of getting the perfect picture you’re now going for a fluid scene. To take a still picture it’s harder to get the perfect shot.

Which do you find more enjoyable and challenging?
I like them both the same and they are both as challenging. With a photograph it's just you and the subject but with a film it's you and a whole team so you have more people to direct.

I heard you say "You really gotta be 10 steps ahead to be doing big shit right now"; can you elaborate on what you mean by this?
What I mean is there’s so many people copying and not being original. What I meant is you have to be 10 steps ahead to be original and get the better jobs, because you don’t just get these jobs by talent alone you have to be a good hustler and a good communicator to close the jobs.

Well said, I’ve also heard that you’re frustrated with the evolution of the digital age where everything is faster, cheaper and mass produced, how has this affected your work with film and video?
It’s cheapened and ruined the art form, the budgets and the pay rates.

Do you also feel that the purists are dying with the digital age?
No, some of them are adapting to the digital age. Now-day’s its all about the fast food and the MTV’s, its all cookie cut, the only time I use digital is when the magazine needs the shots the next day or they have no budget, they want it fast and cheap.

Your fans are eagerly anticipating the release of your 3 books; Ink, Adidas 1979 and East of Havana, tell me more about them and what we can expect?
The 1979 was just released which was a collaboration of Adidas, Undefeated and Estevan Oriol. It was released in Barcelona, Berlin and LA, to celebrate the re-release of the top ten shoe that originally came out in 1979. James Bond of Undefeated told me that he wanted me to do a coffee table book that would come out with the shoe, so the only thing he told me is to do it on basketball and just do your thing, so what you see is what you get. The shots in there were done in New Orleans, New York, LA and Cuba. There are only 650 made and they come with the shoe set. It comes in a leather case with a pair of shoes and a book.

East of Havana hasn’t come out yet because of the publisher, I don’t know the exact story but I know whatever it is I am paying the price. You can see that project on, Ink is still a work in progress, it’s already been shot but it just needs to be designed and put out.

I’m sure your fans can’t wait for the release but I also heard you got a 3 movie deal with Brian Grazer and Universal Pictures. Will you be doing actual feature films or documentaries?
The first one is an actual feature film based on a true story. It is basically written about Cartoon's life before he became what he is now. We are just locking down the script with the first one and hopefully we will go into production this year.

The other 2 are based on the success of the first one, meaning if the first one don’t do good then there might not be a second or a third, so I have to have my shit together.

Your collaboration with Cartoon, when did it begin?
I met Cartoon in 1992 at a record release party for Penthouse Players, my homie DC, AKA Donnie Charles, introduced us because we were the only 2 Mexicans at a hip hop event.

Seems it was fate then, so why do you think you 2 cholos complement each other so well, as such the success of your partnership with Joker Brand?
Because we both have the same vision and we both do different forms of art, we are not stepping on each others toes.

What was the basis behind the creation of SA Studios Agency?
Like everything we do, none of it was planned or forecasted we just fell into it. Basically it started out as being the art department from joker but we had to separate our side work from joker. Since we started SA Studios we have become a Latin/Hispanic or what ever else they call us marketing and production agency.

Like cartoon you're multi-talented with directing and photography as well as being an entrepreneur. What would you like to be most known for? Artist, business man, film director?
I want to be known for original street art out of California.

Gracias Estevan for the honest words, I’m sure all of Freestyle’s readers will be inspired to visit L.A. after seeing your work. Any final advice for young aspiring photographers and artists?
There’s no short cuts. You have to work hard and be original. It's ok to be inspired but don’t imitate. If you find yourself imitating somebody so bad that people notice it, make sure you give the person your copying the credit for it, which means have some class and respect and if you’re feeling really grateful for ripping them off, you can go ahead and cut them a cheque…

To find out more about Estevan Oriol, visit

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