Friday, April 11, 2014

A Ripple Conversation with Rock Photographer, Kevin Estrada

Kevin Estrada is a rock photographer on a mission. Raising awareness of human trafficking. He has pulled in some heavy hitters in the industry to perform at a benefit to help out the cause. On April 11th, at Palladinos in Tarzana, California, Kevin is hosting a benefit to raise money for the cause. Onstage will be assorted bands and musicians from such diverse groups as Helmet, Ministry, WASP, Megadeth, and Fear Factory. Photographing such luminaries as Van Halen, Nirvana, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, among others has given Kevin a unique viewpoint. We discussed his organization, the age of digital media, and a certain egg throwing incident.

Tell me more about Rockers Against Trafficking

    Thanks so much for having interest and helping to spread the word. What got me involved was just trying to protect my kids. You can’t be with them physically all the time. I always wanted to do something to help others.

I wasn’t aware that human trafficking was such a large problem in the U.S.

   That is what I used to think too. I used to think it’s in like Nepal or Germany, Russia maybe. Place like that. But then when It got on my radar I learned that it is happening right here in the US. The hot spots here in California are San Francisco, L.A., and San Diego. I live in Burbank which is this nice suburban town outside of Hollywood. I find out that I just met someone from here whose daughter was a victim of trafficking. She was returned but they are still looking for her friend, who was also abducted. It’s right here in our backyards. Other people contact me now. A lady in Houston contacted me about her missing daughter who was snatched off a bus. It’s heart wrenching to hear some of the stories.

What is the benefit planning to do with the money raised?

   What we do. The money goes out to two different organizations. CAST LA is the biggest one that fights human trafficking here in southern California and throughout the United States. What they do is when the girls are rescued or found they come in and give them legal aid, housing, job placement. They help to get their lives back in order. A lot of these girls when they are taken might be seven years old or younger and then rescued at age twenty. They don’t know what to do to get their lives back. So this group helps with that transition. The other agency is called TINY HANDS INTERNATIONAL. What they do is set up border stations or posts in countries that are known as hotspots for trafficking. They check travelers who are traveling with little kids. They try to stop the flow. Try to stop this before it starts

Was it difficult gathering up musicians for the cause or easy?

   A little of both. (Laughs) I’m not a concert promoter, I am a music photographer. I learned so much setting this up. I have a lot of musician friends lucky for me. Just about everyone I asked about attending said yes, where do I go and what do you need me to do. The hardest thing was dealing with different schedules.  Good to have friends. So many people are flying in for this show. Page Hamilton from Helmet is flying in from Oregon. Randy Piper from WASP is coming in from Seattle. No one is making money from this. So it’s heartwarming to know they are willing to do this for the cause.

So much exposure with bands backstage and in their lives. Anything ever surprise you?

    I get surprised by how friendly people can be. You don’t always expect it. When I worked with Johnny Cash, you know you expect him to be this giant persona. And here he was, warm and personable. We had dinner with his family and then invited me back the next night to hang out. There are always unexpected egos backstage sometimes. There have been fights. At a big show in Texas I walked into the bathroom and someone jumped on me and pushed me to the floor. He’s yelling stay down, stay down. I can hear these like wet explosions and water was getting on me. The guy was protecting me from something. I look up and it's Robert Trujillo from Metallica. And again and I can see Dimebag Darrel and his brother Vinnie, having this big toilet paper roll fight. They take the whole roll, dump it in the toilet and then throw it at each other. I had walked right into the middle of it. That was a cool unexpected thing. The bass player of Metallica saving you from wet toilet paper. I love my job. Everything I do is sort of a different adventure.

  Is it difficult living the lifestyle of a rock star?

    I try not to travel much anymore. I got daughters and I just really miss them. I live here so everyone comes through LA so I don’t have to travel only occasionally. I don’t like it. I get sick when I do. When I was out with Motley, by day two I’m already getting sick. They were making fun of me because I couldn’t hang. I just can’t do it. They are cut from a different cloth to live like that. It is cool. You get to see through the musicians eyes how they live. Traveling. Excitement every night waiting for the show. But I like being a homebody. I like being home with my family.

Any advice to aspiring rock photographers?

    Don’t quit your day job. The digital camera age has arrived. Everybody and their brother thinks they are a photographer. It’s so immediate now. And as a result they are paying less for the photos. I have been blessed to have been able to make a living doing this. The labels are hiring less and paying even less now.  More people fighting for the jobs. Where there is a will there is way. Social media has decreased the value of photos. You can take photos off of face book or twitter. They value it less but someone still needed to create that photo. So it's hurt my industry. The upside is that the technology and quality is amazing.

Any photo books in the works?

  Someday. I have the photos. Maybe in the next year or two. My photos are in a lot of different books but never found the right angle. It would need a connection. Time will tell. The right thing will come along. Or I will say I need to shoot one more band.

Is there a band that you have not photographed that you would like to?

   Hmmm. I’m sure I have someone on my list. I have shot U2 live but I have never shot them in a session, studio session. I would love to work with them one on one like that but I never have. I have a good list of who I have shot. Trying to think of who is missing. U2 is on the list.

Have you come across any bands recently that you think will become huge stars?

    You know the industry has changed so much. I remember when I started to photograph Nirvana. I was following them around and photographing them way before they made it big. I knew they would be. But nowadays I don’t see too many that are going to be big. I was talking with a friend and I was saying, “Who is going to be the next Who or the next Van Halen? Or the next Rolling Stones? I don’t picture who could be that big. For the next generation there are a lot of great bands but I don’t see them getting to that kind of status. It worries me. I don’t know if there will be anymore legendary bands in the future. Who will be the next arena band? Is Asking Alexandria going to be the next Who….I don’t think so. It’s a huge piece of the puzzle missing. Arena bands kept rock alive. There are too, many package deals going on. In twenty years who will be the next Metallica. I don’t know if they are out there. I hope there will be a band that just bursts on the scene.

Last question. You were at the Iron Maiden/Ozzy show where people threw eggs at Iron maiden. Did you get a sense that it was just a prank or something more malicious?

   I was right there when it happened in the photo pit. I have the photograph on my blog. It did happen. I was right next to the guys who did it. I got the sense it was planned but not as a fun joke. They had the credentials to be in the photo pit but I was thinking who are these guys. Then they pulled out eggs and milk cartons. They started throwing it at the band and I was like you got to be kidding me. Things like that should never happen. Bruce was very upset. He was really pissed. They cut the power on them during the set. They really had a hard time. A lot of people have said it never happened. That is why I posted the photos on my blog.


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