News Feature

The Gritty World of Otter LaRouche

March 1, 2019 | Rahoul Ghose

portrait | stephen sutter || have a gansett: brian stanley's 75 shovel | otter larouche

  Not to sound cliché, but (B & W film photography) reminds me of jazz. It has a mood to it, you know, peaks and valleys.  

-- Otter LaRouche

Jesse Padilla -- aka Otter LaRouche -- prides himself on taking the analog version of photography as far as it will go. His style, particularly when he documents moto culture, tends to drift toward black and white, high contrast, sometimes grainy images. Padilla is attracted to vintage tech, whether it's the film cameras he uses or the classic cars and motorcycles he favors when shooting. For his NYC Motorcyclist gallery, the Los Angeles-born, 40-something pored over 1000s of images, scanning negatives from his back catalogue of work. It's the first time these images have been showcased publicly.

He is also currently working on a coffee-table book, a historical rider’s guide to motorcycle routes from the Carolinas to Maine, highlighting landscape images he shot of the areas and the roads along the way.

We recently caught up with Padilla to talk about his driven enthusiasm for film photography, moto culture, his musician’s past, and what the future holds for him behind the lens … his answers are often as gritty as his images.


1) Firstly, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. What initially brought you to New York after spending most of your life in California?

It was a combination of tragic events in my life back in 2013 that pushed me in this direction, mainly to live on the East Coast. I didn't know if I was going to end up in Boston working at Vanson, or down in Philadelphia working at Revzilla ‘til I figured out what to do with my life. I did live on a couch in Long Beach, NY for a hot minute when I worked for a moto clothing brand First MFG ... but that didn't work out. Personally, I think they just wanted someone with contacts in the current chopper scene and I did have a rad letter of recommendation from the GM from when I was employed at Alpinestars in Torrance, CA.

2) Your real name is Jesse Padilla but you go by the moniker Otter LaRouche when you talk about yourself in relation to your photography. Tell us a bit about that and where the name came from.

The LaRouche part is easy to explain. I'm in a fraternity. The Douche LaRouche Chopper Club. Some might recognize the name from a TV show on the Discovery Channel. Yes, THOSE guys, if you've watched the show. Otter, well … I was given the name. Not by choice. In a nutshell. Walked into my local bar 'La Cita' in Downtown LA unaware that it was 'Mustache Mondays' or DUDE night. Some big, buff guy that looked like one of the lead singers of Right Said Fred walked right up to me and called me a 'Cute Little Otter' then pointed at the Pres of the LaRouche apologizing to him: 'Sorry, didn't know you were his BEAR'. The rest is history.

3) What do you currently ride and how long have you been riding?

Currently a 1970 CB750, with some changes. A bit cafe with the tail section, seat and tank ... a bit Brit with the bars and headlamp. I'm a big fan of mids … since my parents didn't make me with love, I'm super short. Started riding around the age of 15? Dirt bikes … you know how that goes.

4) You pride yourself on taking the analog version of photography as far as it will go. How long have you been shooting and what do you shoot with equipment-wise?

I’ve been shooting on and off since I was in high school, but hit it hard when I turned 39 and I have not stopped since then. Only shooting film. I have an assortment of cameras, so the list is long. The older and shittier the better. I have a few favorites, but I do my best to keep all of my cameras in rotation so that I don't get comfortable. I always have one medium format camera and two 35mm cameras at all times.

5) Do you have a film preference?

I do. Expired B&W, from Belgium preferably.

6) Do you develop your own film and create prints yourself?

I can and have in the past, but not currently. Reason being, for the past two years I'd been renting a room just to crash and keep my things in while I was on the road working on my book. Then as of August last year, I ended up homeless for a bit (long story) just three days before going to Europe to shoot. Kind of funny when I think about it now. I don't have a steady place to live at the moment, and I'm always on the road. So, it doesn't make sense for me get a darkroom set up. I will once I figure shit out. This is not a sad story ... it just is what it is.

billy applegate's '73 honda cb 750 named purple rain | otter larouche

  I realized how important it is for me to continue doing what I’m doing, having something tangible to share with the people who helped get me to this point.  

-- Otter LaRouche

7) Your style, particularly when you cover moto culture, tends to drift toward black and white, high contrast images. What about the B&W format appeals to you?

Not to sound cliché, but it reminds me of jazz. It has a mood to it, you know, peaks and valleys.

8) You also tend to favor a more artistic look at photojournalism. How does using film versus the newer digital equipment shape how and what you shoot?

First off, I can't use a digital camera to save my life! I just don't know how. My ex-girlfriend bought me a digital camera to use while I was on tour with my band. I used it … but every shot looked like it was just another picture. I was horrible at using it. Perfect example. I was invited to shoot for the band FEAR at the Key Club in Hollywood many moons ago. Half way through the show, I looked at the shots and they all looked like dog shit. I stopped shooting and just enjoyed the show. Now, when I shoot film, my approach to shooting at moto events, I treat them all the same way. Make it look like no one else is around.

9) Does this play into the title of your website: Deliberate, or Otherwise?

Absolutely!!! If it doesn't spark a conversation, then I'm not doing what I set out to do when it comes to capturing an image. If I failed, then it's just another picture.

10) Do you have a favorite moto image of your own … was it deliberate or otherwise? And what about photography defines you as the artist?

I like a lot of my shots, but I don't have a favorite. I've yet to get that ‘one’ shot.

I don't think of myself as an artist or photographer. I know, I know ... we ALL SAY THAT... but I mean it. I don't self-title myself as one. I'm not there yet, but I'm also not dead. Haha. However, when I was a musician, I could say I was a musician. Especially when I’m still collecting royalty checks for having music on MTV shows or a movie soundtracks to date AND haven't performed in years … I earned it.

@madsquirrelcompany | otto larouche

  If it doesn't spark a conversation, then I'm not doing what I set out to do when it comes to capturing an image. If I failed, then it's just another picture.  

-- Otter LaRouche

11) Has your life experience shaped your photographic eye, how you see and capture images?

It has, having spent many years in the music business. I had a friend say to me a few years back: ‘Stick to what you know … just shoot motorcycles or bands. Just pick one and stick to it.’ Pfft, But I shrugged it off ... I refuse to be a one-trick pony. Fuck, I suck at answering questions. Best was to answer this question is this. I started out like Minor Threat and ended up like Fugazi. If someone doesn't get that reference. Well fuck. That's my life.

12) Who or what do you look to for inspiration: other photographers … music, art?

I try not to look at other people. I stay in my lane. I've found that when I do see something awesome ... or hear it, I don't want to be inspired by it. I just enjoy it. I don't want to be a carbon copy. What I can say inspires me are people's stories. Perfect example: Chef's Table on Netflix. That inspires me! Hearing stories of chefs wanting to perfect a craft, not just prepare a meal. That's how I approach a camera and film that I’m about to use.

13) You also use a film’s grain to create a mood. Do you often push your film to much higher ISOs?

I fucken LOVE GRAIN and heavy contrast. It’s one of the main reasons I use expired film. I don't really push unless I absolutely have to. Natural light is my best friend. I fucken hate using fine grain film … it’s not for me or what I want to do, or the story I want to tell. I like dirty, gritty film. But, a lot of the time I do get a crisp clear shot, so was that deliberate or otherwise?

14) On the moto side your subject matter is focused on older bikes, cars. etc. Vintage technology … like your camera(s). In an age where tech and commercialism are rampant, how important is it to you to keep this culture alive?

Here is where I'm going to sound like a total dick. The reality is, anyone that can walk into a Target can buy a Nikon or Canon camera and then boom you're a photographer. (… says the new camera owner. It's in the bio section of their IG or Facebook page.) Or anyone who owns an iPhone is a photographer because they say so. Right now, as we speak, social media platforms like Instagram have made it possible for people who truly love film to share images with the world. Now having said that, you will notice a giant boom in the analog world. 'I can do that' is what I hear a lot. I say, good. Just keep at it. As far as preserving the culture or keeping it alive ... it comes and goes in waves. And right now, at this moment, it is at high tide. Those that stay true to the art of film photography will always shoot film. We live and breathe it ... even if it means constantly being broke. Shit gets expensive.

jerry merola | otter larouche

  I fucken LOVE GRAIN and heavy contrast. It’s one of the main reasons I use expired film. I don't really push unless I absolutely have to. Natural light is my best friend.  

-- Otter LaRouche

15) Tell us a bit about your background in music, playing in a band … how did that influence your photography?

Oh boy ... here goes. At the age of 17 I was playing in a band doing the whole Sunset Strip song and dance. Played bass for a band called JABOM. Just another bunch of Mexicans. It was a more commercial style of music. The guys in the band were much older than me. They had the ‘we have to make it’ mentality, whereas I just wanted to play music. I didn't care about being famous or making money. I used it as an excuse to travel. I also played in a punk band … those shows were more along the lines of playing backyard parties in the East Los Angeles punk scene. Before long -- I think I was 18 or 19 -- I was opening up for Rage Against The Machine at the Grand Olympic Auditorium.

The one thing that sucked about music, if you play one style, then you must stick to it. With photography, who says you must stick to just one subject? I grew up listening to all kinds of music. When I decided to dive into this new chapter in my life I made the decision early on to NOT stick to one subject.

16) You are also working on a book right now – leaning towards self-publishing – which is for riders but, ironically, no bike images. It’s a historical rider’s guide to routes from the Carolinas to Maine, images of the areas and the roads along the way. What inspired the idea and tell us a bit about the process of shooting it and putting it together. Do you have a title, an anticipated release date?

I’m self-publishing due to a publishing company backing out. They loved the idea/concept and shots, but at this time they are not in the business of releasing unknown artists. The idea came from a few friends who ride and would call themselves ‘Lone Wolfs’ or would go on Gypsy Runs. So, I thought why not make a real travel guide for motorcycle enthusiasts of all kinds, with destination, start and end points of historical value. Not taking a direct route but instead roads less traveled. The shooting part was fairly easy … just being creative instead of taking a boring picture. Putting it together has been a pain in the ass. I've never put a book together, so, it's been a heavy learning curve. Also having someone else pick and choose the shots that would flow best. I didn't want the responsibility of picking what I like. It’s titled Beacons to Bone Yards. My longtime friend Joseph Shawn suggested the title after I made a comment about coming home. Some of the photos are up on my website now. No release date yet. No GoFundMe, No Kickstarter. I’m going to do this if it kills me or I sell my '59 El Camino to fund it. Giving up one thing I love to have another. Whatever it takes to achieve a goal is not a bad thing.

17) When we talked initially you mentioned you were still trying to find yourself as a photographer … your style your voice. What did you discover about yourself looking through literally 100s and 100s of negatives of your past work to single out some images for this story and gallery?

I realized how important it is for me to continue doing what I’m doing, having something tangible to share with the people who helped get me to this point. And, also to leave behind reading the emails or text messages I get from people who I’ve sent prints to. Let me tell ya, it's something else.

18) What projects, either paid or self-assigned do you have to look forward to in 2019?

No paid gigs ... but I’ve been working on a few things. One revolves around MAGA. The second has been ‘life before the races’ at Wildwood, NJ’s The Race of Gentleman. Not focusing on the bikes, but more on the people. That one is going to take a few more years to get all together. And the last thing is seeking out talented motorcycle builders who manage to fly under the radar. In other words, not as popular on social media. That's a project that I had pitched to a longtime friend and editor of Easyriders magazine. He's now moved on to become the owner of Choppers Magazine ... So that will be a project for sure.

That seems like a fitting place to end off. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us and we look forward to seeing more of your work as your journey continues. May your search for that elusive 'one' shot that defines your style be fruitful.

denver's choppers, street life | otter larouche

You can follow Otter LaRouche on Instagram at: , or view more of his work in our NYC Motorcyclist Spotlight Gallery, or on LaRouche's website:

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