By Anne Telford.
Ophelia Chong had one of those light bulb moments that occasionally occur. Hers happened one morning in the shower. She wondered if there was a stock photography agency dedicated to images of cannabis, and to users of medical marijuana. Her research indicated that no, there were none, and so Stock Pot Images LLC was born. With a structure that benefits the photographer’s rights and guarantees 50%, Stock Pot Images is the sole source for historic photographs (think crime scene photos, crashed drug planes), lifestyle and beauty shots of cannabis, among a range of other categories.
She is maneuvering Stock Pot into position to be the go to photo agency for photographs and illustrations of what promises to be a huge money making industry once more states sign on to legalize cannabis. Who will brand this industry? Her message to the cannabis industry is to innovate, not appropriate. The industry has been underground for most of the 78 years it has been prohibited in the U.S., and the legal industry is only in its nascent beginnings. With that they are learning how to hire designers, photographers, and illustrators to create their own distinct branding. Stock Pot Images has stepped in to offer high quality imagery from over 100 of the top photographers in the cannabis and mainstream industries.
Given the demise of the niche or photographer-owned stock photography agencies in the age of Getty and Corbis domination, Stock Pot stands out not only for its controversial theme, but its business model and the quality of its catalog. Starting a stock photography agency was a natural fit as Ophelia was the art director of Workbook, and currently teaches the business of photography at Art Center, in addition to helming Stock Pot.
For centuries cannabis has been used by man as a medicine and as a way to achieve a deeper harmony with nature and to allow for lateral brain shifts that enhance creativity. In the 21st century from its criminal vibe in the 1950s (Robert Mitchum comes to mind with his bad boy swagger, his heavy lidded eyes and his arrest record for marijuana), its psychedelic rap in the ‘60s to that of a respected and desired means of alleviating various medical conditions and enhancing relaxation. From Vietnam veterans with PTSD to suburban housewives with anxiety or children with cancer, cannabinoids or THC can offer significant relief.
“The ‘stoner’ stereotype is gone. Anyone entering the market has to learn the language and the plant, or else they will look like fools pitching work from cannabis industries,” Chong explains. “I’ve encountered companies wanting in, pitching and then when they walk away we sort of laugh and go to people who know the laws, the plant and the communities.”
Science-related sites such as http://www.phylosbioscience.com/ use Stock Pot Images to show the variety of plant strains, etc.
Entrepreneurs like Snoop Dogg, arguably the most famous proponent of all things marijuana, are poised to set standards and make a profit. Ted Chung, Snoop’s long-time manager and co-founder of Merry Jane, their digital media platform dedicated to the “marijuana lifestyle” was quoted in an article on Variety.com last September, “Cannabis is the fastest growing industry in the U.S., with billions of dollars already being legally spent in and around the space.”
With this industry simultaneously growing and contracting due to dueling Federal and state laws, I asked Ophelia about branding the cannabis industry.
As an extension of your involvement in the industry are you planning to launch any products?
I am now working on The Munchies Festival with the people behind the largest food festival in California with over 100K attendees, we will be bring the same style festival only with infused and non-infused food vendors. Another company that I am consulting with is THC Design, who are poised to be the largest provider of cannabis and cannabis products in California. I am their community liaison and I bring support to LGBT, vets, minorities and the disabled in our local communities as well as media outreach. As for Stockpot Images, our recent partnership with Adobe will bring our collections to over 9 million users on an international level that I cannot do alone. As a stock agency we offer still, motion and fine art; we might in the future provide imagery for on-demand printing.
What is the range of businesses that have purchased image rights?
We run the gamut of social apps to science to start ups to mainstream media. I am banking on the need for quality imagery in the near future with the passing of Prop. 64 in California which opens up the market to Adult use, so healthcare is one of my goals to reach.
In the US as more states legalize cannabis who will set the standards, who will profit, and what will the industry look like?
Twenty-eight states and DC allow some form of legalization, either medical or Adult or both. The standards are being written as we grow, each issue is tackled in anticipation and in hindsight. The industry is where alcohol left prohibition in 1933, small companies begin and merge; we will look like the alcohol business in less than a decade.
Are you worried that the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions – famous for his anti-drug stance – will affect the growth of the cannabis industry?
I am not, our 45th has more on his plate than to have the federal government go after each state. Colorado has cannabis written into its state constitution and California will be a $6.46 billion market by 2020. If the present government goes after cannabis, they will also lose quite a lot of tax revenue.
Do you see the cannabis industry as one that is open to women and people of color?
Yes, we are a nascent industry with the power of social media and lightening speed communication, we are present and each company is aware of the need for diversity. My mission at StockPot is to present that diversity in imagery that is not stereotypical or racially based. There are groups such as Supernova Women, Asian Americans for Cannabis Education (I am a founder) that support people of color entering the industry. Another project that I am a part of is PUSH MAG, it is a magazine targeted to millennial women in the cannabis industry, we cover political, sexual, gender, diversity and other issues that concern a group that might not have health insurance to a home of their own in their futures.
Does the fact that respected designers like Pentagram’s Michael Bierut are creating branding and designing product packaging help legitimize the industry?
I feel that the industry has always been legitimate and with someone on the outside entering in with a brand name is helpful, but we have so many amazing designers in our industry now, that to think an outsider would give us legitimacy is a bit condescending to the people who have worked in cannabis for decades and have gone to jail for it.
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