Ophelia Chong had an idea this past January while taking a shower. She wondered if the world of cannabis had access to high quality and diverse stock photos by professionally trained photographers. A veteran of the stock photo industry for 15 years and a teacher at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California for the last five, Chong had been challenging her students to shoot cannabis over the past year. With the legalization of recreational use in Colorado and Washington and the continuing growth of medical legalization across the United States, she realized there was an opportunity to be at the forefront of cannabis’ representation in a professional manner through the medium of photography. The resulting idea was Stock Pot Images.
“My main goal is to change the perception of who the user is,” says Chong. “When I looked around at all the stock images of cannabis available on Getty and other large stock corporations, they were all the same [type of] poorly produced royalty-free images. So I mentioned my idea of an all-cannabis stock agency to my sister who said, ‘That’s a great idea!’ From there I was funded within two weeks, and I had the LLC about six weeks after that.”
The website was officially launched on April 20th, and 88 photographers are signed up already. “I have a very solid, tiny niche with Stock Pot Images,” says Chong. “For me, this website site is really more of a collective. The photographers receive 50 percent commission, which is the highest in the stock photography world. We’re one big team.”
In fact, many of her photographers involved are her students. Chong was partly motivated to create the platform to help her students pay off their loans.
“All of my students are brilliant photographers, but because Art Center is private school, they leave the school with immense amount of debt. Photography as a career is done mostly on a freelancing basis, so I wanted to help in any way I could by creating some source of income. Two of my grads are selling the most on the website, which is really great.”
She has mostly been selling these images to start-ups in the cannabis industry but has found some issues in the way that much of the industry has approached her images.
“For me, this website site is really more of a collective. The photographers receive 50 percent commission, which is the highest in the stock photography world. We’re one big team.”
“There’s a learning curve—because the industry operated under the wire and underground for so long, they would see images and just take them,” she explains. “I’ve already had explain to two companies that were using our images what appropriation is. One of my goals with the website is to teach the cannabis industry that, if you want to be treated legally, you have to act legally.”
What is truly driving her, however, is to represent cannabis visually in ways that it hasn’t before, by introducing highly produced, well-lit and composed photography. The website moves away from the stereotypes of highly sexualized women in nurse outfits with green crosses and teenage boys sitting on the sofa blowing empty smoking into the air.
“We are raising the bar,” declares Chong. “If you go to our gallery called Kitchen for instance, you will see photos you don’t normally see used for cannabis. These are images that might be in Kinfolk or Dwell or Martha Stewart.”
Even though typical cannabis representations like grow houses and buds are featured, she is offering a higher quality image of this type. They utilize a wide variety of subjects from farms, animals, food and people, but one of their biggest sellers so far is tabletop images.
“Sometimes you don’t want a person in the photo because that becomes the story,” she explains. “With table top, people can put themselves in the images.”
This ultimately drives home her approach to cannabis representation in making it less scary.
She continues, “After years of cannabis use being villainized by the powers in charge, it is time to change the perception of what it is and who uses it, to give a face to the actual users.”
Her belief is that with better design and imagery, the industry will be taken out of the underground and into the mainstream. Ultimately, people with money to spend are more willing to spend it on things that have been well produced. With this professionalism in mind, Chong sees the photos as being used not only for recreational dispensaries but also, hopefully, by insurance companies in the future.
“With more states lined up, all these companies are going to have an older generation using cannabis,” she says. “I’m offering very high quality images for a wide diversity of clientele, and my hope is that they will come to me for their photos.”
“After years of cannabis use being villainized by the powers in charge, it is time to change the perception of what it is and who uses it, to give a face to the actual users.”
She is attracting interest not only from cannabis enthusiasts but also from professionals in the art world as well. Her professional approach to the subject has artists coming out of the woodwork to be involved.
“One photographer I just can’t wait to get going has all these film images from the ʼ70s of drug busts, airplanes filled with weed and other historical cannabis-related shots,” Chong gushes. “The reason he wanted to come to Stock Pot is, not only because it is professional, but because I treat everyone equally.”
Chong describes the reception in the art and academic world that she comes from as incredibly supportive of this endeavor. In fact, two of her fellow teachers at Art Center are shooters for the website as well.
With immense growth in only a few short months, Stock Pot Images drives home the idea that all the best ideas truly do happen in the shower.