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The Faces of Cannabis

By Doug Schnitzspahn
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Photos by Chris Vicari

When photographer Chris Vicari fist began shooting portraits of personalities in the cannabis space, he had to build trust with his subjects. After all, cannabis had just become legal in California, where he was working for Green Flower Media, which was on a mission to help the nascent industry present itself as a professional business, and growers were skeptical. “A lot of them would tell me to just shoot their shoulders,” he says. “It wasn’t working.” 

But Vicari, who had previously worked on creating the images for a video game of the Deadliest Catch, wanted real connection to capture images of business people and industry pioneers who had been treated with scorn as cannabis tired to shake off the stigma of stoner culture and illegality. So he focused on what mattered most to the people he was photographing: their work in the field and passion for the plant.

“I wanted to make sure that there was a connection to the land with everybody I shot and completely ignored any kind of stigma or preconceived ideas about cannabis growers,” he says. “I just wanted to show them as salt-of-the-earth people who are out there working hard. I wanted them to look smart. I wanted them to look badass. I wanted them to look respectable.”

The success of that approach shows in Vicari’s up-close-and-personal images of personalities including farmer Swami Chaitanya and industry leader Steve Deangelo, who had devoted themselves to cannabis when it was still heavily stigmatized. Vicari’s portraits reveal the human, hard-working side of an industry just beginning to gain mainstream acceptance.

“Towards the end, people started trusting me,” he says. “We were really embedded with this group of people who were the leaders of their industry. And I got an all-access pass to their lives.”

This gallery highlights Vicari’s work for Green Flower and captures the vibe of an industry in the process of gaining respect.