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Estevan Oriol: Through Hip Hop's Lens
5/25/05 - exclusive interview


Estevan Oriol photography

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 magazines.

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 exclusive interview. 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 years.

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, correct?

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 this year.

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 (, you'd see what I got going on there.

You're involved with the documentary "Ink", tell us about that.

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 filming.

What's your involvement in the film?


From what I understand, you've done some work on GTA San Andreas?

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 it.

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 lowriding.

What type of cameras do you use?

Canon ae 1and Pentax 67 for stills, and a bolex for the 16 millimiter.

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 classes?

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 that.

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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