There are more photographers now than at any time in History, and some of them are really, really good. A small number of those are true artists who use photography as their medium. Estevan Oriol is one. Erwin Recinos of L.A. Taco recently interviewed Estevan about his past, future and present…
How did the new “LA Portraits” book come about?
It’s a collection of pictures I’ve had for over 20 years. I was doing the lowrider thing and a lot of homies are in that scene, so I started doing pictures of them. Magazines would see that stuff, so people would say, “hey can you go shoot this story on the Bloods and Crips for like, Source Magazine.” So I just started shooting all that type of stuff. I have a big collection of those type of pictures, and that’s what everybody knew me for. “Estevan Oriol does that like raw, gritty gangster shit”.
I had a book publisher who wanted to put a book out like that. I was like “no”, because that’s what everyone is expecting. So he asked what I wanted to do. I wanted to show people photos that they had never seen from me before. Girls. I sent the publisher pictures of the girls that I shoot with and sure enough, we did it. So we did LA Woman and printed out a couple of thousand copies. It didn’t sell very well at first and the publisher was bummed about it. The distributor was not moving the book. I kept pushing it here, and doing signings and different events and kept selling them out. So I ended up buying up all the books off the distributor, and my publisher was blown away by the fan base buying up all the copies. We ended up selling out and tripped and said lets do the next book.
Did you personally pick each photo in the book?
No. I would send pictures over to the publisher and they would pick out stuff. They would ask me what I think.
Do you have any personal favorites?
Yeah a few of them are. I mean they are all a part of LA. It’s just cool to get the ones that make you go, “fuck that’s a bad ass flick.”
Any upcoming shows for the release of this book?
The beginning of next year as I have to travel out of town the rest of the year for work. Hawaii for RVCA, Italy with Pirelli and I’m going to shoot Cartoon in Thailand.
How is the Youtube channel Sanctioned TV going?
It’s going good. It keeps me busy. Doing Tattoo Stories, LA Woman and Skidrow Stories every week. Setting it up, filming and meeting everybody. It’s a lot of work.
I would be shooting theses girls for the first time and we’d talk, and I’d get to know them. Little by little I would start hearing more and more crazy stories and I wanted to make a documentary of it. When asked to do the Youtube channel I pitched that automatically and now had a reason to document it.
Do you feel like you’re still a student of photography. Are you still learning?
Yeah. Every shoot I fuck up. Like, damn I should done this or I should done that. This would have been a lil bit better if I have would have done that. I’m my own worst critic. I’m an artist its my shit. I want it to be the best it can be and you don’t always get that.
Do you think photography is losing its craftsmanship?
Yeah. It’s over saturated and everyone has a camera and Instagram. Everybody is posting a gang of pictures. There’s not too many things that haven’t been accessible yet. Probably everything has been shown to the world. Before it used to be shown by a photographer who had skill to cover a story that had never been told before. There’s everything from the best picture of it to the worst.
It was a professional business. You had to be a professional or a student to do photography, it was a real small niche. Now there’s just everybody. It’s definitely watered it down and cheapened the craft of photography.
What ever happened to The Last Laugh storefront on 6th and Los Angeles?
At that time the economy had just taken a shit and they were trying to keep the rent as high as they could. We asked the landlord to cut us a deal because everyone is doing bad. The landlord said no, there is a line of people looking at this spot. We had three stores (Upper Playground x Mister Cartoon and Estevan Oriol retail experiences) and he said we could take all three out if we didn’t want it. That was 2 1/2 years ago and they haven’t had one tenant since then.
Are their plans for another pop-up shop in the near future?
It’s never out of our head but we just aren’t thinking about it right now.
Any photographic work that you like to look at personally?
I look at it all you know. There’s this one magazine from the Bay called Hamburger Eyes when they were out. I like war photography. Just shit from different places. Like real high end production fashion shit.