Estevan Oriol Talks "West Coast Ass"
As we gear up to release a limited edition run of prints featuring Estevan Oriol's famous "West Coast Ass" shot tomorrow morning, we caught up with the legendary Los Angeles photographer to see what he's been up to in 2023 and take a little trip down memory lane to the day he shot one of his most iconic photos, as well as what he's working on for the future, including a prospective documentary project on his father, respected photographer Eriberto Oriol, several upcoming book titles, and his work being exhibited at various galleries and museums around the world, including BEYOND THE STREETS London at Saatchi Gallery.
Luis Ruano: What up, Estevan? Tell me about the day you shot “West Coast Ass.”
Estevan Oriol: I was doing a photo shoot for YRB Magazine and they wanted [a photo of] somebody getting a West Coast tattoo. They threw out some ideas of something with the West Coast and tattooing, so we came up with that idea, and then Cartoon put that pattern on the girl.So that was Mister CARTOON's work?
Yeah.What year was this? Do you remember?
August 2002.At that moment, did you know that that was going to be one of your signature shots or was it just another everyday thing?
No, it was just an everyday thing. I had no idea. Even with the LA Fingers, I had no idea that it was going to be as big as it was. I just take pictures, and some of them hit harder than others. I kind of see how the reaction is to some photos and I keep pushing those ones out there more. What people see in the world today is maybe 1,000 of my photos that have been printed somewhere. I have over 500,000 photos. So that gives you an idea of what people haven't seen yet and what I've chosen to put out there in the world for people to see and judge me on. But I got a shit-ton more, and they will be coming out. I'm just getting it together right now.Even with that amount that you said you've put out, your work has obviously become a symbol of Chicano culture. When did you realize it was that significant or it meant that much to Chicanos, Latinos, and just people in LA in general? Do you remember the moment where it kind of hit you?
I would say recently, in the past five years is when I've been hearing most people recognize me. I would also say since Instagram, when I first started my Instagram in 2011. There was more access for people to view my work, because early on you would only do a photo shoot for a magazine. It would be on the stands for 30 days in whatever region you shot it in. So if I shot them in an LA-based magazine, people in New York would never see it unless you went to an international newsstand and walked up and down the aisles looking for magazines. Only then would they pick up a magazine and my pictures would be in there.
I know you’re looking to put a few more things out into the world this year. What else does Estevan Oriol have in the works for 2023 and beyond?
Just working on four books right now, L.A. Woman 2, being on tour with Cypress Hill, House of Pain for 13 years, another book on low riding around the world. There's 25 years of photos just from that. Then I'm trying to get together a book for hip-hop’s 50th year, showing most of my hip-hop photos. I really want to put those two books out this year.
I’ve got my work currently at BEYOND THE STREETS London in Saatchi Gallery, a couple of pictures up at the Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious show at Fotografiska in New York, a couple of pictures at Jeffrey Deitch’s K11 Musea show in Hong Kong and a couple at the Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop show at MoPOP in Seattle.
I'm just trying to do my museum thing a little bit, so some of these galleries might take an interest in me and not put me as the low guy on the totem pole in the group show. Maybe I can get up there with the main guys, like Shepard Fairey. On that level.
You’re on that level, man!
I'm just working to get into those top positions. That's what I'm just trying to maneuver right now, just doing all the little baby steps that I can do to where I can start doing some power plays and having my own big shit. Where I get my own rooms or my own shows.
You touched on Cypress Hill a bit. Any plans on doing a book for them?
Well, I'm doing one, but I'm calling it On Tour. So it's not specifically Cypress Hill, but it features 100 pictures of Cypress Hill. I have pictures of the girls that I met on tour, pictures of places we went, pictures of the bands that we went on tour with, everyone from Hole to Rage Against the Machine to Goodie Mob, Erykah Badu, Stephen Marley, Ziggy Marley, the whole spectrum from punk rock to rap to R&B to rock and roll.
We, meaning Cypress Hill, have done all that you could do. We were groundbreaking and changing the game as we were going along. We started going to a bunch of countries, the same over and over, and I told the band, "Hey, man, we always go to the same places like Paris, Germany, London, Tokyo, Mexico City maybe or some shit like that. We should go to some other places." And they go, "Yeah, tell the lady." So I told the booking agent, "Hey, we want to do a South American tour, and go to all the countries in South America." Then I was like, "Hey, we want to do Australia and New Zealand and spread it out a little bit."
We ended up going to 44 countries. Some of them multiple times. Since then, I've been on my own, and I got the tour bug in my ass and I’ve wanted to see more parts of the world. I'm at 56 countries [visited] right now. I went from 44 to 56. My goal is to hit half the countries in the world before I die. I'm just trying not to buy Norco or Xanax that's laced with fentanyl so I can go on to see all these countries.
Well, shit, I hope you reach that goal and I appreciate your work, Estevan. I watched the Cypress Hill documentary.
Oh, thank you, brother.
Yeah, I thought it was important. I think that's what I appreciate about BEYOND THE STREETS too is that at the end of the day, we're historians. We keep all these stories alive. We make sure that people don't forget because, I mean, the internet's quick, man. Things get lost or misinterpreted. I think it's important to preserve.
It's fucked up, but that's all we can do is try to keep these stories alive. I'm trying to do that with my dad, Eriberto Oriol, and this guy, Howard Gribble [a photographer and custom car historian]. I want to do these little documentary pieces on them because they're both 81 years old, and you see online how many motherfuckers drop on the daily. I want to hear the stories from them. I want to get their stories rather than somebody else's interpretation of their stories while they're still here. They're sharp, and they can talk about it. You know what I'm saying?
Both of those guys are 81 years old, and it's tough out there. It's a cold world, and everybody's on everybody's ass because they're trying to fight for everybody's content. So I'm just trying to get these old guys' stories out, and keep them alive. Keep mine alive and keep it pushing because if we don't tell the stories, somebody else will, and it won't be done the right way.
100%. I know that time's probably the most valuable thing we got, so I appreciate the time you took to talk to me.
When you're in LA, what the fuck else can you do? You know what I'm saying? I’ve got like an hour of sitting in traffic right now.
A limited edition run of "West Coast Ass" prints were available through our online store but are now SOLD OUT. Only 50 were made, each hand-signed and numbered by Estevan Oriol.