Estevan Oriol: Capturing The Streets Via Film

Many people are familiar with his partner, Mister Cartoon, who is known for his world famous tattoo art, but Estevan Oriol is just as well known for his tremendous skill as a photographer. The Mexican American has been capturing the gritty, rough street life in his photos for over 10 years and has an impressive portfolio that many photographers would die for.

Much like Cartoon with tattooing, Oriol has photographed the likes of 50 Cent, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Cypress Hill, Justin Timberlake and many others throughout his career. That might be fulfilling enough for the average photographer, but not Oriol. He’s parlayed his photo skills into the video side, where he’s established himself as an up-and-coming video director. Since ’97, his video clientele has continued to grow, and he has already directed videos for Blink 182, the Transplants, Xzibit and Alchemist to name a few. Just like his photography, Oriol is able to produce that same gritty, street feel within his videos. And that’s a trait that helps him appeal to any future or current clients.

His artistic skills have managed to take him far beyond his expectations, achieving feats he never imagined he would. His most recent achievement was when he landed a three-picture movie deal with Imagine Entertainment/Universal Pictures through famed movie producer, Brian Grazer, where he will direct a film based around the life of his business partner and friend, Mister Cartoon.

BallerStatus sat down with the veteran photographer and director to talk about his history within the entertainment business, his love for photography, and how he linked up with Cartoon among other things. Oriol’s 15 year stint in the entertainment business wasn’t a walk in the park. Although his clientele is impressive, he’s still a regular guy that has to hustle everyday to eat. First tell me a little bit about growing up in L.A., and how it affected your outlook on life and your career?

Estevan: Growing up in L.A. obviously influenced my whole life ’cause I grew up here. As far as my career, I’ve seen so much different sh** ’cause I was the tour manager of Cypress Hill and House Of Pain for 13 years. That took me to 43 countries and all of the States, so I was able to see L.A., as well as the rest of the world. I didn’t only get to see the hood in L.A., I’ve lived all over L.A. at this point in my life. I’ve lived at so many different parts of the city that I know L.A. real well.

But at the same time, I’ve seen so many parts of the world that when I see people living in the hood out here, I realize how good we have it in [the U.S.] Like if you go to the ghetto in South Africa and you see them with 100 shanty houses made of out of cardboard, wood or metal, or you see like 50 houses sharing the same toilet, it really opens your eyes to what’s going on in other places besides L.A. That type of sh** is a real eye opener, and it makes you really appreciate where you live and where you’re from. I’m always grateful of what I got ’cause I’ve seen all that. We have our bad sh** here, but it’s nothing in comparison of what people go through across the globe. What was the moment that was really the turning point in your life, as far as deciding where to go in the professional world?

Estevan: There wasn’t really one moment where it led up to like “It’s either this or that.” Sh** just comes up [in my life] and I go with the flow. Everything you see that [myself and Cartoon] are doing, none of it was planned. Ok, well, you have established yourself as a great photographer, bringing out the street life in your photos. Talk about how you got into photography early on?

Estevan: I started taking pictures around ’95. My dad used to take pictures back in the 80’s and stuff. So, I was telling him about me going on tour and when I was back in L.A., I was involved with my car club, which was Life Style Car Club. That was me, Cartoon, B-Real (of Cypress Hill) and all the homies. We used to go to car shows and we had meetings every Friday night. So, I was telling my dad about all that stuff and he would trip out. He asked me why I wasn’t taking pictures of all that stuff ’cause it sounded interesting. At first I thought, for what? I was like “What am I gonna take all these pictures for? For what and for who?” I just didn’t think it would end up amounting to anything, you know? I just thought I would end up with a bunch of junk, just photos for my photo album or something.

So, I ended up taking my camera around here and there, leaving it home on some tours and taking it on others. It got to the point where people would look at my pictures — friends of mine that were in the music industry, people in groups like Cypress Hill and Psycho Realm. They started noticing that I had a talent, because to me, they just looked like pictures you take when you go on vacation or something. I never saw it as artistic or anything. As people started recognizing my pictures as something more than your average picture, then I started looking at other people’s photos and I thought that maybe I did have something here. So, I just started doing stuff like album covers, catalogs and advertising photos. It just snowballed from there.

In ’97, I started getting into videos. I did two videos for Psycho Realm, which led to two videos for Cypress Hill, which led to two for Muggs, then Soul Assassins, Gza and Kool G Rap. Today, I’m doing stuff for the Transplants, Blink 182, Xzibit and Alchemist. There are a ton of photographers out there, but with your work, you are able to capture something others can’t. Do you feel that helps you stand apart from the rest?

Estevan: I don’t even really see it like that. I just see it as me doing my own thing. I don’t look at other people’s pictures and say “I wanna do something just like that.” I just do my own thing. Like I said earlier, I don’t plan… like with the company, I don’t plan photo shoots. There’s never any heavy, heavy concept behind any of my pictures. It’s just like, I go out and do the picture and that’s it. We’ll go out and if I see something cool — like a cool spot — I’ll be like, “Let’s shoot right here.” I never have a plan for my shoots. It might look bad in some ways ’cause it might seem like I’m unorganized and I don’t have anything set up or ready for my clients. At first they might feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, but once they see the final pictures, they can’t even decide which one to use. You mentioned you are moving toward directing videos. Tell me a little about how directing videos differs or is similar to the process of taking photos.

Estevan: The difference when doing a video is that you have this whole crew you are responsible for, you have these concepts, the schedule, the label and everyone is on your ass. Whereas, when you’re doing a photo shoot, hopefully, it’s between you and the person you’re shooting. Once in a while, there’s publicists and labels, and they kind of get in the way.

I dunno… when you’re doing a photo shoot and you’re sitting there with the camera, pointing it at somebody and the publicists are 20 feet away, they don’t see the same thing you do. If you hire somebody to do their thing and trust them for the work you’ve seen from them, you’ve already seen what they can do, so you should just trust them and let them do it. I respect people’s ideas and I’ll take them into consideration, but ultimately, it’s my job to make the final product come out right. Basically, videos and photos are the same in that sense.

The only problems are when the people who write the checks try to get into the creative process and give their two cents. Sometimes they feel it’s too street or ruff and raw, but if they didn’t want that, why did they come to me? It’s like my partner Cartoon, he does black and grey tattoos. If you want color tattoos, don’t go to him and ask for one, he doesn’t do them. That’s the same with me. I do the kind of picture I do and I don’t let people bully me into taking pictures I don’t want to do. Which is the bigger passion for you, photography or directing video? And why?

Estevan: I like it all. I mean, I like the photography maybe a little bit more because I have more control and it’s more of me that I have to worry about. When you’re doing a video production, you have this whole crew to worry about. And then you have everybody cutting a check to worry about. You want to keep them happy ’cause you wanna keep working. At the same time, you have to stand your ground. You don’t want to let them punk you into doing something you don’t want to do. You wanna do it your way because that’s what they hired you to do. Aside from those two things, you are also CEO of Joker Brand clothing. Tell me how you and Cartoon came together and why you guys decided to start a clothing line?

Estevan: Me and Cartoon met in 1992 through a friend of ours, DC, rest in peace. He was the owner of Hood Rat Records, founded Hood Rat Car Club and was the manager of WC & The Madd Circle. He was big time in lowridin’, and so were we. At the time, I was tour manager for House Of Pain, while Cartoon was doing artwork for Eazy-E, Kid Frost and MC Ren. DC took me to this record release party and at the time, there wasn’t many Mexicans or white dudes in hip-hop. When we went to this party, we were the only Mexican fools there. I went with DC and we ended up running into Cartoon, who was good friends with DC too. So, DC introduced us and we just kicked it real tight, got along real good. We just had a lot in common.

After we met, me and my homie, Big Lucky, started a line with someone who got greedy, so we left and started out own thing. We had the idea and concept and we had Cartoon as our artist. Joker Brand started out as Not Guilty, but we had to change the name because some Koreans owned the trademark. Then it was called Skandalous because I use to go by that when I DJ’ed, then it became Joker after other bullsh– we had to go through business-wise.

Me and B-Real were partners, and it got to the point where we needed more money, but B-Real’s money was tied up in the music. So after my homie Lucky went back to prison, I was left with Joker by myself. We’ve just stuck through it over the years, and here we are today. This is really the first year I took a salary out from Joker Brand, 10 years later. It’s been a rough road. The general public might not know, but you guys have a full service multi-media company called Soul Assassin Studios. You guys do everything from photography to album artwork, music videos, etc. Tell me about your overall vision for Soul Assassin studios.

Estevan: Basically, we’re a big art house. Cartoon does art on any type of canvas — paper, canvas, walls, cars or even skin. I do photography and videos, and hopefully soon, movies. We also got the clothing (Joker Brand).

We’ve done logos for all kinds of companies and we also do music logos. So, if we get the job for a music logo for an album or I get the job for the photography, we offer them the full package, which we can do all in-house — the logo, the photos, the album inserts and artwork. We just spread all of our services around. It just makes sense for us to do it all, so everything ties in together. We can even direct the videos, so everything — the whole package — will tie together correctly.

To check out more of Oriol’s work, visit his website at

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