By Luisa Grigoletto
Hi Estevan, thank you so much for your time! Let’s talk about your latest book “This is Los Angeles”: What does LA represent for you and would/could you ever see yourself living elsewhere?
To me L.A. is home. It’s in my blood. I take it with me everywhere I go. It wakes me up in the morning and keeps me going until I go to sleep. It’s one of the pLAces in the world that everybody looks to for inspiration. People from all over the world come here for vacation, business, and to try to live their dreams. I’ve been to 56 countries and loved it all, some more than others. I could live in some of them temporarily if I could work enough to pay the bills, but I would always return home.
How is the book situated in relation to your previous projects?
It has elements of L.A. Woman and L.A.Portraits. It’s a small sample of a lot of different subjects I’ve shot here in L.A.: Woman, Gangsters, Lowriders, Musicians, Artists, Actors, Skidrow, Iconic pLAces and elements of L.A, Family and Friends of mine, who are still with us and some who have passed, as well as cLAssicks and New stuff.
Is there one photograph in this book that you’re particularly attached to?
No, there are many, because they are memories of people, places, and things that aren’t in my life anymore.
This is Los Angeles is a portrait of the city through its streets and the faces of its inhabitants.
How has the identity of the City of Angels changed since you started photographing?
It’s changed a lot, since I’ve been shooting over 20 years, which is 2 decades. People have gone thru many style changes, technology has advanced so much so fast, we have gone from beepers to cell phones, which are basically mini computers with cameras, in your pocket all day everyday. There are surveillance cameras every 10 feet. Skid Row has gotten out of control, homelessness is at an all time high, there’s more money in the city than ever, and gentrification is everywhere. Big stores and mom and pop stores that have been there for years are closing everywhere, whole industries have come and gone – for example the record store businesses, like Tower records, Wherehouse records, Toys R Us; the 6th Street bridge was demolished, as well as other iconic places, to make room for new buildings, and the McMansions are popping up everywhere.
How was the process of working with your publisher, Drago?
It’s been cool, there’s no one in the world like Paulo!!! They took a chance on me when the others were scared, and we proved them wrong. L.A. Woman’s 1st printing is basically sold out, L.A. Portraits is close to selling out soon. Half of the books I purchased myself and sold myself, making me Drago’s best and biggest customer. It’s been a great experience, I think, for both sides.
Your images are always very raw and powerful, yet intimate, no matter whether you’re documenting street culture or doing corporate assignments. Tell us a bit about how you approach your own projects, how you conceive a new idea, how your carry it out, and where inspiration comes from.
I don’t really plan too much, I approach my portraits kind of like I do when I’m documenting. The main approach is respect, when you give Respect most of the time you get it back, unless the person is just an asshole.
How do you achieve that “Estevan Oriol” aesthetic? How do you connect with the people you portray?
Everyone is different, so you have to see how they are and approach them accordingly. Some are easier than others, some are nervous and don’t like their photo taken, so sometimes it’s not easy.
Where does your fascination with street culture come from?
Life and living with people, having my eyes open. Some people drive thru a neighborhood with the windows up, the radio on, looking straight out the front window, going where they have to go. I drive with the windows down, listening to the sounds of the neighborhoods, smelling the smells, and looking out of all of my windows.
What is your first memory related to photography? Why did you pick it up?
My Dad, Eriberto Oriol, got me into it, he handed me a camera, gave me a quick lesson on how to use it and told me shoot what I was doing, which was Lowriding and touring with House Of Pain.
Can you share with us what was a negative experience that ended up pushing you forward?
Asshole people that are negative always push me, and hard times. Also seeing positive and greatness pushes me. I’m kinda competitive so both sides push me.
What’s the craziest place in Los Angeles you’ve ever been to and why?
That’s easy: East L.A. and South Central, because it’s intense, you have to be on your toes, and don’t get caught slippin’.
What are you currently working on? Where will we see you next?
Always new stuff, new projects, they come and go, some never come out, but the next 4 that have to come out are:
Books: This is Los Angeles, RVCAloha, Gumball 3000, and a documentary on me and Cartoon.