Chris Romaine is a travelling Cannabis Photographer and the founder of Kandid Kush. Crediting cannabis with fuelling his creativity, broadening his perspective, easing the hard times and connecting him with people from a diverse array of backgrounds, we meet the man behind the lens and find out more about life on the road populated by plants, people and photography.
Could you tell us a little more about your background and how you came to found KK?
I’ve been creatively driven and intrigued for as long as I can remember. I’ve had a camera in hand since my teenage years, and it’s been the one medium that has stuck with me. I attended a trade college for automotive refinishing and moved to LA to pursue that. I lasted about a year until the 2007 economic crash. Such a blessing in disguise.
Then I attended the Art Institute for graphic and web design. It seemed really scammy, so I quit after the first year. The only photography classes I’ve taken were for 35mm film and development in high school in 2004. Other than that I’ve had a couple of mentors over the years, otherwise I’m self taught.
The idea of KK really started in 2015 after moving to San Diego from Las Vegas. I got my med card online and ordered some herb to my apartment the first day I moved to SD. It was a mind blowing moment. And the pictures were awful, like so bad I wasn’t sure what I was looking at… Bugs, grass, blurry something-or-others? But I did know I could do much better.
So I ordered 4-5 different strains, aimed my strobes at the pile of nugs sitting atop a glossy white Ikea table in my living room and took the first cannabis photo of my career. It wasn’t bad, but it needed a lot of refinement. I shot the different strains and then text them to the delivery guy. I proposed an 1/8 of cannabis for every photo. His menu could have photos, I get free herb, and I get to practice my trade.
After about year and a half of being burnt at all ends working in nightlife, day clubs, photography position capturing Audi cars for e-commerce, and trying to figure out cannabis photography – I traveled to Pisac, Peru for an ayahuasca ceremony. When I got back to the states the universe challenged me with what I really wanted. And that was to be a full time photographer working with cannabis as my subject. I was more or less forced with a decision to pursue this, cannabis photography, or continue on with what I was doing in SD.
I took the leap and moved to Oakland, CA to continue this path.
How niche is your niche?!
So niche, most people can’t comprehend what I do even though it’s pretty straight forward. Cannabis is a product, just like any other product, that needs imagery for advertisement, menu, and branding.
I know most the prominent photographers in the space, and could probably count them on one hand. I’m not talking about people who take good photos of cannabis. I’m talking about the people who for the last 4-5 years, day in and day out, are making 100% of their living by capturing images of herb. We are very few, and it’s an incredible feeling to be a part of such a talented group of individuals.
What have you witnessed in terms of the shifting perceptions of cannabis and plant medicines (drugs) during the span of your career?
I’ve seen a lot of changes of perspective regarding the plant, and they’ve been mostly positive! Other psychedelic plant medicines are being decriminalized and people seem to be accepting them as an alternative medicine for depression, anxiety, trauma healing, and bonding. It seems the stigmas are going away too.
What have been some of the highlights and low lights so far (of both the artists journey and personal cannabis use)?
Some highlights have been getting to travel the country and parts of the world while connecting with like-minded passionate people. Being able to share my work with thousands to help shift the perspective on the plant. Having my work published in books, online articles, and in magazines has been really rewarding!
As an artist, it’s a roller coaster. I always struggled with how could I make a living doing photography when every person has a camera in the pocket. Imposter syndrome is a definite challenge. It’s also pretty hard being valued as a creative.
I’ve quit photography a couple of times due to frustrations of people I worked with, and feeling completely at a loss of making this a career. It’s not for the faint of heart or the money hungry. I pour myself into this, and that’s the beauty of it. It keeps me coming back.
Do you have any hopes or concerns about the growth of the cannabis industry?
Both! My concerns are that of any industry, really. Corporate greed, unfair taxations, exploitation, smaller businesses being squeezed out by unjust regulations. I’m also concerned about the plant. I would hate to see companies like Monsanto monopolizing this sacred flower with IP and other ridiculous efforts to control her.
My hopes are for federal legalization, and that as a country we can learn the mistakes of legalization in varying states. I want to see every single non-violent cannabis “offender” released from prisons. It’s so disgusting that I can make a living taking photos of a flower that someone is serving a life sentence for possessing or consuming.
What other tools do you use for inspiration and creativity?
Traveling, museums, art exhibits, live music, conversation, cannabis, psychedelics, experimentation, and failure.
What does spirituality mean to you?
Spirituality, to me, is connecting the mind, body, and soul. That feeling of being connected – there is a difference between lonely and alone.
How does life on the road compare to the old static studio?
Life on the road is unbelievable! It has its own set of challenges – like bathrooms, wifi, and limited space.
Some of the biggest differences and obstacles are not having the ability to experiment with studio photography, and limited gear. I don’t have all kinds of random props, stands, or seamless papers anymore. So my work is somewhat limited in a way, unless we rent those things of course.
It’s also a requirement for my clients to have 15ft by 15 ft, completely undisturbed, powered space for me to work in. Now my bookings are usually a week on location so I have enough time to get everything accomplished.
I’ve grown to really appreciate the more time on location approach rather than hustling to capture as much as possible in a short period of time. With the van I can usually just post up on location or nearby and not intrude much on anyone. It’s fantastic.
When you first launched, what brought the most traction and momentum for you? And what hasn’t worked so well?
I think timing had a lot to do with it. I spotted an opportunity in an emerging market with a decade worth of experience doing photography. I was no where near skilled as where I am now – but I just knew it would be big. Instagram has been huge too.
Then being authentic, engaging with almost everyone who reaches out, and literally telling everyone I meet about what I do. Networking and marketing is so damn important. And everyone is going to know if you are bullshitting.
What did not work is cold calling cannabis companies. For years I worked very hard to make connections and define my skills to break into the cannabis community. Lots of networking, referrals, and working for an established company in the Bay Area as a photographer played major roles in my success thus far.
What motivates you?
I’m just hungry, and always have had this drive to finish what ever I start and I pour myself into these things. Funny thing about that is, I’ve realized there is no finish line for a lot of my projects. I don’t really know how to describe the feeling.
I love creating – and the world around me! Sunsets, nature, all of it! Seeing others pursue their dreams and catch them brings on an extreme feeling of joy for me. I’m fortunate enough to have positioned myself to travel a lot. And that costs money, so there’s a bit of motivation there too!
What has been your biggest lesson, fear, or failure?
Failure! I love it, it allows you to come back at the situation with new perspectives. Hopefully that creates growth and evolution.
If you did not have your own company, what would you be doing?
I would still be doing photography. I’m completely addicted. I can’t envision anything else.
What advice do you have for budding artists / entrepreneurs?
Just do it. You have to take the leap and trust in the process. I know it’s the most cliche thing to hear, but you will never know unless you do it. You have to make yourself available to see opportunities and then take them.
It’s not just one leap either. I’m not sure how many there are, infinite? Don’t worry they get easier.
How has what you do changed you as a person?
I love life a lot more. When you are able to focus on your passion, and get paid for it, your perspective on life changes greatly. I was pretty frustrated with things, and the struggling, while I worked food and beverage jobs. Now I have a purpose and it’s very fulfilling.
If time and money were no object – what would be on your to do and to see list?
There’s so much of the world I want to experience. I would like to help people as much as I could too. It seems those things could go very well together. Obviously with a camera in my hand.