Photos by Estevan Oriol
Estevan Oriol is an internationally recognized photographer, and has helped define LA street culture since the early 90’s. You might recognize his work of lowriding, tattoo and gang-culture, and the now famous “LA Hands” hand-sign, but his work is a mix of celebrities, artists, musicians, and fighters.
Estevan got his start in the business after traveling as a tour manager for Cypress Hill, and although his early work focuses on music and lifestyle, he has had a lifelong interest in combat sports and has been shooting fighters since before the UFC was around.
We asked Estevan to go through his archives so we could feature some of his never-before-seen fight culture photographs. His first set is of a young Floyd Mayweather, shot in 2003 during the early stages of both men's careers. Esteven chatted with us about the experience, and about his love of boxing, when he stopped by the VICE office in Venice Beach, California.
Fightland: When did your interest in fighting start?
Estevan Oriol: When my dad put me in boxing. I used to visit him during the summers and one year he put me in boxing in San Diego in one of those summer programs. That was when I was a little kid.
I was always into it after that. [My interest in combat sports] stayed in boxing, and in the early 90s I signed up at Wild Card with Freddie Roach. Back then it was in Mickey Rourke’s loft.
And then I bounced over to LA Boxing downtown because my company moved [nearby]. They had Muay Thai, so we started doing that. I ended up finding another gym, when we moved our houses to the Valley, called Muay Thai Academy. I worked out there for a couple years, and then at a friend’s called The Boxing Academy Los Angeles. There were two brothers, Richie and Frankie. Frankie passed away in a motorcycle accident and that was pretty traumatic for all of us, so they ended up closing the gym. When I go to Thailand, I go to the gyms over there. I go to Buakaw’s gym is in Bangkok because [Mr. Cartoon] tattoos the owner of Sing Ha beer, and they sponsor him.
I always liked the sport, so it was a natural thing for me to be able to shoot that kind of stuff. But for me, I was mostly shooting jobs, and there wasn’t too many jobs coming through for that kind of shooting.
Then when the jobs started falling off because 80% of the magazines flopped, I just started shooting stuff I wanted to shoot. And [fighting] was one of the things I wanted to shoot.
Are there any photographers shooting fight culture that you look out for?
No. I mean, I like Stefan Kocev's work but he’s newer, just coming into it. But of course I like… I got his book, he’s a big shot. He’s the one that did that Muhammad Ali shot looking down from the rafters. It’s a dope book, too. He’s known as Neil Lifer. He’s one of my favorite sports photographers.
What was Floyd like to shoot? Is he as crazy as everyone thinks?
I shot him for Dub Magazine. They flew me out to Vegas to shoot him and at first I thought, ‘Oh man.’ You know, even back then he was known as the cocky, arrogant, Floyd Mayweather. I was like, ‘Fuck, I’m going to be stuck with this dude all day shooting.’ It's not going to be cool, you know? I thought he would be all celebrityed out, acting.
But then I got there and he was cool. He had all his homeys, all his trainers. I went to meet him at the gym, but I was only supposed to shoot him doing the cars and he goes, ‘Hey man if you want, you can shoot me in the gym.’ I told him, ‘Yeah, but I need to shoot the cars.’ He goes, ‘No, no, we will do that... but if you want to shoot me working out, too, that’s cool. Do whatever. You came all the way out here, lets do some shit.’
I was expecting to shoot him in the daylight outside with the cars. I only had 400 ASA film and the light wasn’t so great, so I had to really dig deep with the ASA with the apertures and all of that. Some of the film got underexposed because it wasn’t light enough for 400 film to shoot movement, so you know, I kind of had to compensate if I wanted to catch him in a motion, I had to lighten it up, and if I wanted to catch him with the stills—just clean portraits—I could shoot him darker. I had to play with the camera but I ended up getting more than I wanted, and more than what I went there for. And after he worked out we went to his house and shot with the cars.
When I was shooting back then, I wasn’t pushing it too the limit. Like I see people now and they are just there with a digital camera with a motor drive and four batteries just ‘brrrrraaaa brrrrraaaaaaa’, just shooting it like a fucking moving picture. Back then, you’re shooting film, so you would try to get ten shots of different shit on one proof sheet. Couple shots of him at the speed bag, couple shots of him getting his hands wrapped, couple shots of him shadow boxing… you try to get all that on one proof sheet. Cause its film, and you’re on a budget.
Now? I probably would have shot four times as much as I had back then. The only people back then that were shooting mad photos like that were people like Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber. I used to go to the same photo lab as those guys and there would be three or four rolls with Cindy Crawford or Christy Turlington. Headshots where every single shot out of the 36 frames on the rolls of film looked exactly the same. I used to trip out on that. But that’s when you knew who had budgets to shoot. It was different times.
My favorite shot is of him hitting the speed bag.
The one where he is looking at me? Yeah, that’s how he was the whole time. It was weird. There’s another shot of him sparring and you see him hit the guy, back up two feet—you know how you do the slide—then he looked at me. And then he went back in (laughs). He’s cool, man. There are a lot of people that talk shit about him, but I met the dude in real life and he was cool.
See more of Estevan's work on his website.
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