Tuesday, November 04, 2008
EvilMonito.com interviews EO.
by PHIL CHANG
Interview with Estevan Oriol
Photographers are unblinking witnesses to what they choose to document and observe, and Estevan Oriol’s work offers us an uncompromising look into the bare-knuckle truth of metropolis’s underbelly. His photography is a stark reminder of the extent to which mainstream media has distorted and exploited the real lives of millions of people around the world. In this interview, Estevan reflects on his career as a professional photographer, the intersection of art and identity and how there’s nothing more important in life than getting yours the hard way.
EM: For those who are unfamiliar with your work, please introduce yourself.
ORIOL: I’ve been shooting pictures as a hobby since 1995, and I started doing it professionally in about 1997. Lately, what people mainly know me for is Snoop Dogg’s most recent black and white cover and a Righteous Kill poster that’s getting blasted everywhere with Rob de Niro and Al Pacino. It’s weird, I do a lot of magazine work…and people see the magazines, but what people know recognize me for are the stuff that’s in the streets – like posters in the streets, and then the snipes that the record labels and movie companies do.
I also do videos – I did the latest video for Paul Wall’s ‘Break ‘Em Off,’ some work for Blink 182…I’ve done about 35 music videos to date, shot about 100 magazines and created maybe 30 album covers. Within five minutes of Google searching my name, you can get a pretty good idea of the projects I’ve worked on.
EM: How has the economy effected your profession?
In this business, you can’t be in it for the money, cuz you aren’t going to be making any. All the major record labels, magazines and distributors are shutting down and closing now, so there isn’t too much album cover and video work. A lot of things that I was depending on for my career are being shut down because of the economy.
You know, for me, every day you hear a lot of people say their jobs are hard and it’s hard out there or people are unemployed…but for me, the fact is, every day I’m unemployed. Today I’m doing a photo shoot for a personal project about women in LA with an Italian printer – most of it is for promotion. If I sell out with the book, I’ll make a little money – but it’s not about that. Today I’m unemployed, tomorrow I’m unemployed and yesterday I was unemployed.
Yesterday I did a job for a big magazine – they only paid 150 dollars for the shoot, but if it wasn’t me doing it, it would just be someone else trying to come up in the industry and they’d get that credit and exposure. So, it’s a fine line between turning shit away in the name of self-respect and working. Like, if a musician or someone will come up and ask me to do shit for a disrespectful price, I’ll turn that type of shit away. I was a tour manager for Cypress Hill and House of Pain for thirteen years, so I know exactly how much musicians make. If someone comes up to me with a thousand dollars and asks me, “yo, can you hook up my album cover homie?” I’m like “No, homie,” cuz that’s not how you do your homies. My new thing is if someone comes and asks me to do something for a low price, I tell them to trade. I do your photos and you make me a track or something.
EM: Let’s move on to a broader, more philosophical question. Do you find that there is strength in vulnerability, and conversely, vulnerability in strength?
To some extent, there is, because to me if you’re man enough to come out and say something affected you emotionally…see, it takes more of a man to come out and say that you were sensitive about a certain thing. Most people would be afraid to confess something that hit you like that. To me, it’s like you’re more of a man if you’re not afraid. The whole thing about being gangster and being hard…is that you’re not afraid of nothing. You’re claiming that you aren’t afraid of what people say about you. So if you can still say that shit and not come off as a punk; that shows strength. I know straight killers who’ll tell you some straight up emotional stuff that happened to them as kids and they won’t get choked up at all while telling you. But you wouldn’t ever say shit to these types of dudes, cuz they’re the types of dudes who’ll put metal in you or rip the lower part of your jaw off and be like what? There’s shit that kicks off that sensitivity and emotion in a man, but at the same time, it can make them as cold as ice.
EM: Your photography often offers a very unique, deeply involved perspective into cultures that aren’t otherwise accessible to mainstream audiences. What does heritage and identity mean to you?
It means everything. You know? It’s what you are. What makes your identity is your heritage – where you come from, who you are and what you are. Me, I’m Mexican-Italian, and both those cultures are fuckin’ nuts. They got beautiful women, everybody and their mother wants to talk about being with some hot Italian or Latina woman… the food is off the hook, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like tacos, rice and beans or a plate of pasta and pizza – so, I don’t know, I love everything about my two cultures. Both are very family oriented, great food, beautiful sexy women, both are places that got long histories. The Mexican side has the whole warrior type mentality that stretches back to fighting the European conquistadors, and the Italians got the whole Mafioso, machismo attitude with the men. I love it.
I’ve been to 46 countries and I’ve seen a lot of different cultures. I like tripping out on different people’s cultures. Some people are really hardheaded and are like, “I only like my culture and fuck everyone else’s,” but I enjoy seeing how other people live. There’s a lot to learn about life in doing that. Cypress Hill took me all over the world. I met a lot of people and I seen a lot of different societies – everybody we go to do shows with are like, “oh, you’re from the hood blah blah, we wanna show you our hood, come see our hood.” But Cypress would be tired from doing shows, so I’d go with the local people with my camera and I’d take photos of different hoods in the States, the favelas in Brazil, the hoods everywhere all over the world. I was meeting everyone from the poorest kids in the ghetto to rubbing elbows with some of people who come from money.
EM: While your work is known for its bold, iconic quality, how important are subtlety and nuances in your photography?
Those are important too, especially with women. A lot of my photos with women appear simple and very much like, wow that’s just a straight up woman with no crazy backdrops or whatever. They’re just simple and subtle and there’s nothing really to them except my choice in the women I shoot. Subtlety is almost entirely in the choice.
Like when I shoot celebrities, sometimes I’ll throw em against a brick wall…It’s like is “so and so would like to come down and be shot for a mag, how long will it take? “ And I say, “if they come ready, 15-20 minutes,” and they’re like “that’s all you need?” I’ll just throw ‘em against a nice textured background and it’ll come out cool. I’ve even have Danny Trejo and Forrest Whitaker use the photos I’ve taken as their headshots that they send out. I think it’s because they’re simple and clean, but their expressions are so powerful. It depends on the person though, on how simple you can make it. The power of the facial expression is really what makes a photo sick. Danny Trejo has an intensity in his eyes that makes the photo really powerful.
EM: Many of the subjects in your stark portraits are often prominently tattooed. What is your involvement in tattoo culture, and do you find that there is a common intersection between the stories tattoos and photographs tell?
I’m a co-owner of a shop with Mr. Cartoon called Skid Row Tattoos, that’s our shop that we’ve been doing for about five years – so that’s my tie-in with that whole scene. The people we hang with over here, the lowrider Mexican culture, is predominately about tattoos. Before rapping and all that came out, people been tatted down. Cartoon’s been tattooing since ‘95 and he tattooed everyone and their mom, literally. Like, we tattooed everyone from people from the hood to soccer moms in Malibu – done it all.
I do photos and videos while Cartoon does tattoos, drawings and paintings. That’s what we’re about, so a lot of the reason why I became known is because I took photos of Cypress Hill, which brought me up in the hip hop world – and I took a lot of photos of Cartoon’s work, so, likewise, that brought me up in that world. Simple.
EM: Out of all the subjects who you have captured over the years, do you recall a specific individual who came across as the fiercest and most powerful to you?
Some of the hood guys, like the guys who are known in the ghetto for being the big guys who are known over there – they come across like that – and guys like Rob De Niro and Al Pacino, they really came across like that. Just the way people treated them; the way their whole crew from the movie set on Righteous Kill treated them. They are royalty. But at the same time, they’re normal guys so I wasn’t bowing down or kissing their ass; I was just treating them respectfully like everyone else.
EM: Your publicly viewable photography is often thematically rooted in a decidedly urban context. Are there any subjects that you enjoy shooting that would surprise your audience?
Yeah, I guess the girls would surprise people. Right now, I’m shooting Jeri Lee and nobody will see these until the book comes out. She’s right there with all those other people I was mentioning in regards to being real professional, interesting and simple but subtle.
By now they shouldn’t be surprised with anything I’ve shot. I’ve shot in 46 countries, the hottest girls on Myspace, big-time celebrities and the poorest kids from around the world. So, no one should be surprised by anything I’ve done, right? It’s funny though, people still do get surprised. They shouldn’t, but they do. They’re like, “Ah, man, I saw this thing you shot and I didn’t think you’d shoot that, I only thought you shot Mexican dudes with bald heads and cars.” I’m like, “what made you think that, homie?”
EM: Lastly, in keeping with this issue’s theme, how does one ‘get fierce?’
Hard work. Keep your hustle up – you don’t get fierce sitting around in a house waiting for someone to kick the door down, pull you out and tell you that you’re fierce. You gotta get out there, get your grind on and hustle to make that shit happen yourself.
Thank you to everyone who supported me for this long and all the stuff that we do. We appreciate it all – we love what we do, check out the websites and check out our new store if you can when you’re in LA. We got some tattoo books and the LA women book coming out. And lastly, thank you Rickey Kim and Evil Monito.
Posted by estevanoriol.com at 2:06 PM