Estevan Oriol: Through
Hip Hop's Lens
5/25/05 - LatinRapper.com exclusive interview
Though his name may not
ring bells to the average Hip Hop head, Estevan Oriol has
been a significant industry player since the early 90's.
The former bouncer connected with Cypress Hill, later
serving as tour manager for the group. On tour, Oriol
would eventually take photography seriously, and with
dedication found his work published in dozens of major
As a video director, his client list includes the likes of
D12, Xzibit and Alchemist, and his clothing company Joker
Brand is known worldwide. We get the goods on his work in our
LatinRapper.com: Not many people would know this, but you
started out in music as House of Pain's tour manager. How did
that come about?
I was working doors at clubs doing security, and the guest
list and stuff. And I met the guys from Cypress Hill there,
and they liked the way I handled myself, they wanted to see if
I could work in what they had going on. But on the Cypress
Hill side they had all their positions filled. So they said we
have a position opening up, but its with a new band opening
up, these white boy rappers. And I said 'ah f**k, I gotta go
work with Vanilla Ice?' And they said who it was, played a
song, and I knew Everlast from before, so I said that's cool.
I went on tour with them, and loved it. So they were done
touring, and I moved over to the Cypress Hill camp. One of
their guys was acting shady, their tour manager, they cut him
loose, and I came in and filled that position the next 13
So do you still manage?
I still do tour management work, if I need to, but they're
kind of fading out of the business so I want to get more into
the position I made for myself, a new career, which is photos
and directing. So that's what I'm putting most of my focus on.
What got you into photography in the first place?
My dad told me, you know, 'I see you doing some photography on
all these little excursions you're going on' 'Cause I was
going with Cypress Hill, House of Pain around the world, then
coming back and doing my lowriding projects. He thought that
would be some interesting subjects to photograph. At first I
was like, why would I take pictures of all that stuff, who
would care. I wasn't really into photography, so I thought of
it like, maybe I'll just take tourist pictures if we go
someplace cool like Hawaii or Japan. But then I took pics
here, a little bit there, before you know it people were
cutting me checks. It turned into an income, and I just
followed up on it and ran with it, and now its like my main
source of income.
What are some of the publications that you've shot for?
The Fader, Rime Magazine, Rolling Stone, the Face, Arena, FHM,
GQ, Oye Magazine, the Source, XXL, Vibe, Mass Appeal. Those
are the ones I pretty much work with on a frequent basis. I
work with all the magazines, I just promote the ones that I
work with on a regular level.
Aside from the photography, you're also into music videos,
Yeah, I've done about 30.
What are some of the projects have you been involved with?
Alchemist, Xzibit, the Transplants, Blink 182, D12, Cypress
Hill, Psycho Realm, this group called Rise Against, and then
this other group called Trust Company. I've done seven videos
Directing them or shooting them?
Both. I direct them, then I shoot a little bit on every one.
But cameras are heavy, I have a bad back and a f**ked up
shoulder, I can't carry that weight all day.
I interviewed video director Jessy Terrero a while back, he
was trying to move into feature films, is that something you'd
want to do.
Yeah, if you look at IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1474553/),
you'd see what I got going on there.
You're involved with the documentary "Ink", tell us about
It's a movie based on a true story of a friend of mine, my
partner and godfather of my daughter, Mister Cartoon. Its
based on his life, kind of like 8 Mile was based on Eminem's
life, you know. But Cartoon's not going to play himself in
this movie. We're gonna get some young hot actor similar to
him with a six pack, you know, looking real tough.
So is it a documentary or a movie?
It was a documentary, but they bought out the rights to that
to make it a movie.
I looked at your IMDB profile before, it said it doesn't
come out until 2007, when I interviewed Mister Cartoon it
seemed to be right around the corner.
It was... That was when it was a documentary. We're getting a
writer, and then from there that will take about a year to
write the script. And then you know we'll just go on to
What's your involvement in the film?
From what I understand, you've done some work on GTA San
Yeah, I took some photos, and sent them, and they would use
those to help them draw the city. So I just go take pictures
of streets and neighborhoods that I thought looked cool and
represented L.A.. You know, icons, monuments, the type of
buildings we have out here. You know how in New York they have
those big brick projects, you know that's New York when you
see those buildings. I had to figure out things, that when
people see them, they say 'oh that's L.A.', 'cause they don't
call it (the game's location) L.A..
Lets talk about the clothing for a second. You had a few
different lines of gear like Not Guilty and Scandalous, do you
have anything on your plate at the moment?
Joker Brand, that's all I can handle. All the jobs that I
have, the photography, the director and Joker, each one of
them is like a full time job. But because I started them all
and I've been doing them all at the same time, I have to
spread myself out between all of them.
You started Joker Brand?
Cartoon started it, and I picked it up in 1995. He was doing
it with someone else. And he wasn't happy with the way
everything was working out. So him and that other guy sold it
to me, and B-Real from Cypress Hill. And B-real was like, 'man
I gotta stay focused on my music, you do the clothing s**t'.
'Cause its crazy, if I could start it all over, I wouldn't do
But Joker's a famous brand.
Yeah, ten years later. And all the f**kin' brick walls we ran
into with it, and its not a huge brand, its big as far as a
Latino line because we been there for 10 years, but we're not
doing nowhere near the numbers African American lines are
doing. Nowhere near Rocawear, Sean John, Enyce, Echo. We sit
next to them on the shelves in the stores, but the first six
or seven years, stores were scared to death to carry us. We
didn't have a lot of support, it was a trip 'cause like
everyone would wear it, people would walk up to them and talk
to them about their clothes. People would ask where they could
get it, but when I wear anything else, they're like whatever.
I guess 'cause its easier to get to. So there's a demand for
it, but they buyers from stores are so scary. They're like, we
don't want that hardcore clientele, hardcore type kids. Your
imagery is all gangster. I say, 'what imagery do you see?' We
put people with bald heads and stuff, but back then you
wouldn't see no tattoos, they had long sleeve shirts, but
because we were trying to promote our own people in our ads...
But now you have people like Eeminem, Korn, Good Charlotte,
Blink 182, Transplants, all these bands wearing our stuff, so
now what's the excuse? I got everyone and their mom wearing
Joker. And they wear it out of love, we don't pay them to be
in ads, they wear it because they want to wear it.
How much influence does Hip Hop have your craft, if at all?
Its all it is. You know, L.A. street life and hip hop are what
made me what I am as an artist. Otherwise I'd be shooting
landscapes and bottles of shampoo or something, know what I
mean. But because I came in shooting all hip hop and all
What type of cameras do you use?
Canon ae 1and Pentax 67 for stills, and a bolex for the 16
If you had to choose one particular photo as the most
significant to you, which one would it be and why?
The L.A. fingers, the hand sign of L.A. because its just so
representative of L.A., and I did it a long time ago. The
reason I think its one of my most memorable photos is its one
of the most copied photos that I've done. You gotta look at
that as flattery you know. People went and bootlegged and make
t-shirts of it, stickers of it.
Accomplished artists like Justin Bua make time to teach
courses, have you considered teaching any college photography
No, what we do is me and Cartoon will have like an art show,
and if its up for a whole month, we'll invite kids out and do
seminars talking to at-risk teens, letting them know that they
can follow their dreams, with art, making a living out of it,
put a focus to it and make it happen. Its basically all about
hard work, if you work hard you're gonna get what you work.
There is no shortcut in life, you end up paying for it another
way. And doing all that negative s**t is gonna end you up in
prison or dead. We're trying to talk to these kids out there,
give them some kind of hope. Most of them, you start talking
to them and their families s**tted on them their whole life,
telling them negative s**t. They never support, tell them they
can do whatever they want. They just s**t on them and tell
them they are no good, they are gonna be just like their
father or uncle. We try to let them know that they can do
anything they want to, we're living proof. We try to give back
like that, rather than going and teaching art classes and
such. Rather try to save someone's life. There's already
enough people out there teaching, but not enough people out
there trying to help these kids.
Do you have any suggests for the aspiring shutterbugs out
there who want to advance their craft or shoot for magazines?
Yeah, my advice is get up early, early bird gets the worm, and
be at work by eight o clock, stay there until about eight o
clock, and keep doing it. Take in any job you can that comes
through, do some of it for the love of art, and the rest for
the check. 'Cause you do have to sometimes take on work that
you don't wanna do, 'cause you don't know when your next job
is gonna come through. Today is a Wednesday. I didn't work
today, I'm unemployed. I worked on Monday, I'm unemployed
Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday Friday Saturday, Sunday, next
Monday I work again. So I work one day this week, one day next
week, those might be my last photo jobs ever, who knows. But
just be ready, 80% of my job is getting more jobs.
What do you have planned for the future?
Just to excel my skills, try to put my craft and keep raising
the stakes on myself, you know. Be out there trying to make a
name in photography, and directing movies. I like doing music
videos, but id feel better doing movies. I'd love to see my
clothing company be an Echo or Sean John, Phat Farm, you know.
I'd love for the whole world to grasp what I'm doing with the
clothing and embrace it, right now I'm still struggling with
Any last thoughts you want to share?
I got the Ink book coming out this year, its gonna be like a
coffee table book. And we got another book coming out, Stars
and Cars, put out by SA Studios. Check out the Nikes we got
coming out, and a Mister Cartoon limited edition sidekick
coming out in October. We just did two big art shows with
Nike: Cultura and the Promise Land.
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