When Ophelia Chong learned several years ago that her sister had started taking medical marijuana for an autoimmune disease, there was no stopping the word ‘stoner’ from popping into her head almost instantaneously.
It wasn’t a proud moment.
“How could I look at my sister and call her that? It was a horrifying thing to think,” Chong tells Civilized. “Then it occurred to me that if I had that perception, others likely had it, too.”
Just like that, the idea for StockPot Images was born.
Chong launched the first stock agency for cannabis related imagery in April of 2015 with about 25 photographers and 2,300 images. Fearing the potential repercussions of capturing cannabis, many of the photographers involved in the project at that time opted to use pseudonyms.
Two-and-a-half years later, StockPot has amassed roughly 20,000 images from a pool of about 240 photographers – none of whom remain in the cannabis closet. To Chong, this is a reflection of what she set out to achieve with StockPot from the get-go: to “dispel the stereotypes” around cannabis consumers.
That means leaving no room for a lot of the “traditional imagery” around cannabis – the red-eyed dude in the Rasta hat or the naked woman straddling the giant bong, said Chong; this is, in fact, one of her key rules for the photographers she works with: “Don’t objectify women.”
“What I wanted for StockPot was naturalistic images and real portraits of real people,” said Chong. “That’s why no one featured on StockPot is a professional model. They’re all real people interacting with the plant in a real way.”
In this way, Chong sees StockPot’s content as divorced not only from stereotypical cannabis imagery, but also from traditional stock photography.
“With regular stock photography, you know it’s fake and it’s staged. I want people to see our photos of real cannabis users and think, ‘wow, they’re really enjoying themselves.’ I want people to experience that emotional connection,” said Chong. “Stock photography doesn’t change minds. I want to change minds.”
Just like Chong’s own “180 on cannabis”, she wants viewers and users of StockPot to discover “the depths and the breadth of this community... beyond that iconic leaf.”
“I have the chance to set a path for imagery, because we’re all at the beginning of this,” she said. “We have a chance now to write history.”
Along with helping craft a new narrative through imagery, StockPot serves as a historical archive of sorts, believes Chong.
“It’s about collecting the collective mind of cannabis from around the world. We are archiving these images for the future,” said Chong. “That’s really what we are creating: a public library.”
As for Chong’s perception of her sister these days?
“For her to take that leap of faith and try cannabis in front of me, someone had never even walked into a dispensary was [very brave],” said Chong. “I see now that she is just like every other patient that has exhausted their western medicine options and decides to try this plant... it’s helping her.”