Photography The truths of the street through Estevan Oriol’s photos
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The truths of the street through Estevan Oriol’s photos

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Elisa Scotti
Le verità di strada attraverso le foto di Estevan Oriol | Collater.al 24

A few weeks ago the documentary dedicated to the life and career of Estevan Oriol and Mister Cartoon, LA Originals, was released on Netflix. Those who have never heard of them can identify them as the pioneers and disseminators, through their art, of the Los Angelina culture and subculture of the late 80s and early 90s. Oriol is a photographer and director, while Mister Cartoon is a tattoo artist and former writer. They worked side by side with the greatest exponents of hip hop in those years.

We could talk for hours about what they both did for and in street culture, but for now, we want to tell you who Estevan Oriol is and his photos. If you have never had the pleasure to travel through time and learn by watching, now is the right time to do so. But let’s take a step back.

Oriol began his career as a bouncer at hip-hop clubs in Los Angeles and this is where he met the then thriving Californian hip-hop scene. He becomes tour manager for the most popular rap groups like Cypress Hill and House of Pain. In between tours, with his father’s old camera – the famous photographer Eriberto Oriol – he begins to capture the moments that will make world rap history. He was also tour manager and photographer for Blink-182. Many of his pictures have become the covers of many albums that Mister Cartoon has enriched with his lettering.

His work starts from here, however, will pass through all the neighborhoods of Los Angeles and will arrive in Hollywood. Estevan Oriol has taken over half a million photos all over the world, with 25 years of career to accompany him, he has made his images a symbol of the Chicana culture, making it internationally known. He juxtaposes the glamorous and gritty plans of Los Angeles culture, with portraits of athletes, artists, celebrities and famous musicians and Latin, urban, gang and tattoo culture lifestyles. 

The raw reality of Mexican-American neighborhoods – made of alcohol, drugs, tattoos, guns, dangerously charming women, sharp and deep looks of aggressive men and gang members – make his shots extremely intense, real, raw and dirty. Dirty given by the grain of the black and white film that has become his hallmark

What has defined Oriol’s style is to be found in all his travels and not only in the input given by his hometown, although that kind of aesthetic is very predominant. In fact, the photographer has travelled to 56 different countries, from which he has been able to explore cultural peculiarities, contributing to a consistent increase in his creative horizon.

His photographic experience has changed over time, especially since the advent of digital photography, even though the film remains a loyal friend and his trademark. What we haven’t said until now, however, is that Estevan Oriol is also a director and videomaker, he has, in fact, shot many music videos, shorts, and backstage videos of his experiences, making his way of capturing the public’s gaze shine through videos as well.

Oriol’s photos have appeared in many covers and online magazines worldwide: Complex, GQ, Vibe, Rolling Stone. His portfolio is so rich and important that it includes the names of Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Dennis Hopper, Chloe Moretz, Xzibit, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Eminem, Denny Trejo etc.. He has exhibited all over the world and published several books, most recently “This is Los Angeles” published in December 2018, in which he collected the “Best of” of dangerous gangstars, lowriders, musicians and celebrities.

Some of his productions have become murals, starting with those made in Nipsey Hussle, who died prematurely. But his most famous, copied and reproduced in the most disparate ways, is the photo showing a woman’s hands forming the crossed letters LA. That photo is a cult, every self-respecting Los Angelino or Chicano has imitated that gesture at least once in his life, making it a distinctive sign.

Estevan Oriol has finally started his own merchandising made of t-shirts, sweatshirts, bandanas, integrating it into his main work. All you have to do is watch the self directed, but not self celebratory documentary, it’s worth it.

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Written by Elisa Scotti
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