As the daughter of a man who served time for illegal cannabis farming, Kristen Angelo knows better than anyone the power in a picture.
The full-time photographer from Washington has spent the last three years capturing cannabis for major publications and agencies, all in the hope of painting the plant in the “positive light” it deserves.
“I’m really invested in generating an honest perception and interest in cannabis culture and the industry, as well as generally de-stigmatizing [the plant] and educating people about the community,” Angelo tells Civilized.
“It’s a bit vindicating. It’s a bit poetic. But I also feel a sense of responsibility... in that I kind of feel like I’m representing my dad in a positive light and doing him right.”
Angelo’s father was imprisoned for cannabis farming in the 90s, when she was only 18 years old. It was an experience that “traumatized” her and her family, which included three siblings between the ages of eight and 12 at the time. She recalls feeling like her family didn’t fit any of the negative cannabis stereotypes rampant in mainstream culture.
It’s partly what got Angelo interested in cannabis photography in the first place – that, and a boyfriend who’d gotten a job as a buyer in the legal industry and urged her to join him on-site.
“He was visiting a lot of farms at the time encouraged me to bring my camera along. At first I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to photograph, but where my interest really started to ignite was when I started meeting the farmers and the cultivators and getting to know their history and background,” says Angelo.
"The farms were really beautiful, really picturesque, and they all had these great stories to go along with them. I was really inspired by who they were, so that was what really motivated me to pick up the camera.”
Three years later, Angelo is the cannabis industry’s most widely published photographer. Her photos have appeared in such publications as Cannabis Now Magazine, Culture Magazine, Marijuana Venture, Sungrower & Greenhouse, Dope Magazine, Northwest Leaf, Oregon Leaf, Alaska Leaf, and MG Magazine. She also creates visual content for WeedMaps and regularly shoots for StockPot Images, the first stock-photo agency for cannabis-specific imagery.
No matter her audience, Angelo focuses on presenting cannabis “honestly.” That means veering away from so much of the traditional imagery associated with the industry – namely, the age-old custom of objectifying women in the name of selling cannabis products.
“With those types of photographs, what you see is what you get. There’s no story behind it. They’re not an honest representation and, aside from maybe the aesthetic aspect, they don’t really serve a purpose as far as being socially or politically impactful,” says Angelo. “With my body of work, I really work for intention. I work with a purpose. And that’s important to me.
“I have a lot of enthusiasm for the people I photograph and I love what I do. Obviously I have an emotional tie [to the work] and I think that can be a very powerful thing.”