Estevan Oriol has been documenting Los Angelenos, streetwear culture and celebrities for more than 25 years. Among them, Kanye West — when he was then Yeezy, not Yeezus, and Kim Kardashian, whose claim to fame at the time was that homemade video tape with Ray J.
The acclaimed photographer’s latest project will be unveiled today in collaboration with Adidas, featuring an immersive NMD photo gallery experience. The exclusive event, held in downtown Los Angeles, incorporates state-of-the-art projection mapping to celebrate the sportswear label’s new NMD R2 and CS2 styles.
Along with photographers Brian Willette and Cole Younger, and a group of budding street photographers, Oriol will present a photographic series that nods the city and NMD’s narrative of the nomad and urban exploration.
It’s a message that Oriol knows well — having honed his talent and made a name for himself chronicling the everyday urban dwellers who have inspired what streetwear is today.
“Sneaker culture is what’s trending on websites, and without that, you won’t be able to see anything, if not for the imagery,” Oriol told Footwear News. “There are a lot more photographers out there — they are all trying to outdo each other, but I think they brought me in because I’m old school and I represent L.A. worldwide.”
Some recognizable names he has snapped over the years include Dennis Hopper, Adrien Brody, 50 Cent, Danny Trejo; as well as other boldface names who were at the very beginnings of their career before catapulting to superstardom, including, Kim and Kanye at a time before egos, endorsements and entourages.
“I shot Kim way back in the day after the Ray J movie, but before (she married) Kanye,” Oriol recalled of his pictorials for the spring 2008 Famous Stars and Straps look book for Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker’s clothing line. Kardashian gained notoriety one year earlier when her sex tape leaked — that was nearly 10 years ago. “They wanted to do their new women’s line with bikinis, so they pulled me in to shoot her. She was with her mom (Kris Jenner). There wasn’t a glam squad and assistants; just Kim and her mom rolling up in the same car.”
In 2003, ahead of producer-turned-rapper Kanye’s debut album “The College Dropout” was released, Oriol scored an early photo shoot with the entertainer when he spotted him at celeb-favorite tattoo studio Mister Cartoon.
“I was shooting for Mass Appeal, on a monthly basis, I think. I told them Kanye was coming through to get tattooed by Cartoon,” Oriol recalled. “They told me, ‘If you can, get a shot for us; we’ll put it in.’ He came in to get his tattoo — the way it works you have to put it on and they have to wait. So in between one of those breaks, I said, ‘let me shoot some shots.’ He said, ‘for sure.’”
Kanye was clad in Nike sneakers during the pictorial — ahead of his his first Air Yeezys collaboration with the brand in 2009. In 2013 he made a deal with Adidas.
Oriol took him out of the studio to capture him in the streets. “The way I do things is with natural light,” he explained, “So we went downtown and I had to find a street lamp and I got a couple of shots. He was by himself. He didn’t come with an entourage, girlfriend or nothing.”