Article by Jennifer Boeder, Cannabis Culture
Ophelia Chong needed information about medicinal marijuana. She was researching its health benefits on behalf of her sister, who suffers from an autoimmune disease. But as Chong looked online, she noticed something: cannabis content featured virtually no images of Asian people.
People of color were largely missing, or portrayed with problematic stereotypes. Seniors and LGBTQ people were also conspicuously absent, and the images of women were all too often sexualized. “No one looked like my sister,” Chong says. “I didn’t want to show them to her.”
And the images weren’t just pale and male—they were simply bad photos. Mainstream stock photo sites didn’t offer quality cannabis photography. And though the cannabis industry has been striving mightily to join the mainstream, shots of badly-lit grow rooms, grimy-looking dispensaries, or sexy nurses with joints in their cleavage just underscore the sketchy stereotype that surrounds pot.
So, Chong founded Stock Pot Images, the first stock photo agency to specialize exclusively in cannabis-related imagery. Her site features quality images of everyday people across the spectrum of age, race, gender, and sexual orientation. She offers shots of farmers, scientists, veterans, nuns, bakers, and budtenders, whimsical food photos, and stunningly artistic images of the plant itself. There’s an entire gallery of animal photos to serve the growing interest in CBD for pets. It’s only been three years since she founded Stock Pot Images, but already Merry Jane has dubbed Chong’s site “the Shutterstock of weed.” “We are the largest and most comprehensive library of cannabis strains,” Chong notes, “and we treat our images with respect.”
Chong’s roots in visual culture go deep: she started her career as a photographer at Raygun Magazine, then moved on to Sony Music, Mercury, Epitaph, and Interview Magazine. She did a 10-year stint as creative director at Slamdance Film Festival (Sundance’s edgier counterpart) and is now a professor of photography at Art Center College of Design. Her visual and cultural cred is apparent in Stock Pot’s eye-catching repertoire: some of her former students are now contributors to the site, and to ensure authenticity, Chong insists that all her photographers use models who are actually cannabis users. The only don’t? Disrespectful images of women. “No girls in thongs!” she laughs. But she’s serious about Stock Pot’s role in ending the stigma surrounding weed, and sees her work as a chance to spur a visual revolution: “We are changing the face of cannabis.”