I’m often asked one of two questions…

 

“WHY would you start a photography business focused solely on cannabis?” 

...or “HOW did you start a photography company focused solely on cannabis?”

 

The answer, as you might imagine, is not a short one… but if you’re curious, feel free to read on for way too much information!

I’m often asked one of two questions…

 

“WHY would you start a photography business focused solely on cannabis?” 

...or “HOW did you start a photography company focused solely on cannabis?”

 

The answer, as you might imagine, is not a short one… but if you’re curious, feel free to read on for way too much information!

I’m often asked one of two questions…

 

“WHY would you start a photography business focused solely on cannabis?” 

...or “HOW did you start a photography company focused solely on cannabis?”

 

The answer, as you might imagine, is not a short one… but if you’re curious, feel free to read on for way too much information!

KIM SIDWELL & THE HISTORY OF CANNABIS CAMERA

I’m often asked one of two questions…

 

“WHY would you start a photography business focused solely on cannabis?” 

   ...or “HOW did you start a photography company focused solely on cannabis?”

The answer, as you might imagine, is not a short one… but if you’re curious, feel free to read on for way too much information!

GROWING UP IN THE SOUTH

I was born (30 seconds before my identical twin sister) and raised in Oklahoma City. My mother, though very young, was plagued with many health issues. A few months before I started high school, our parents moved us to Houston, Texas to be closer to the medical specialists my mother needed regular access to.

 

During high school, I got good grades, played on the tennis team, worked at the local dollar theater, fell in love, fell out of love, took my first photography class and did a pretty good job at staying out of trouble.

 

41 days before I was set to graduate high school, I had a "disagreement" with school administrators over their unforgiving attendance policies, so I walked down the hall to the GED testing room, took the test and walked out of high school with a skip in my step, more than happy to never return.

 

Within a few weeks, I got my first full-time job as a photographer working for a cute little portrait studio in the local mall. When the studio eventually expanded, my boss asked me to move to College Station, Texas so I could help open the new location. A year or so later, I upgraded from the photography studio in the mall to a high-end studio where I was able to earn more and learn more… not only did I drastically increase my technical skills as a photographer, but I learned about the actual business of photography.

 

MOVING TO THE MILE HIGH CITY

After 21 years of life, I’d never quite adapted to life in the south (the weather, the landscape and the politics... none of it ever suited me very well). So, at the age of 22, with my mother having passed away a year earlier, I moved to Denver, Colorado in 2005 and enrolled in The Art Institute of Colorado. I quit my job, packed up everything I owned (including my two pet turtles), said goodbye to everyone and everything I’d ever known and moved to the Mile High City in search of freedom, snow days, and adventure.

Four months after moving to Colorado, I attended my first 420 Rally at Civic Center Park, in downown Denver… 

IT. BLEW. MY. MIND. 

Compared to what the rally eventually became, it was tiny then, but at the time, (to me) it was EPIC! As a formerly closeted and super-paranoid cannabis smoker coming from the conservative south, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw so many people light up in public. It was a day I will remember the rest of my life.  I was home.

For the next 4 years, I went to school, explored Denver, learned to snowboard and made life long friends. 

The first year of school was mostly focused on technical and business education, but eventually, it came time to pick a focus… to find my niche, as all successful photographers must. 

At the time, my main joy in life was snowboarding… with this in mind, I began to focus my photography on both studio portraiture (in the summer months) and snow sports (in the winter). I interned for a local snowboarding magazine, shot the x-games, did some backcountry snowboard shoots with some great riders and learned a lot. One of the things I learned is that snowboarding photography, as a career, was not going to be a good fit for me in the long-run. 

 

I decided to move forward with snowboarding as just a hobby and switched my focus back to portraiture and product photography.

 

MY FIRST ARREST

In 2008, the year before I graduated, the Democratic National Convention came to Denver. Another game changer. 

 

After living through 911 and the Bush years in Texas, I was now in a more progressive location and found myself (finally) becoming interested in politics. I lived one block from the State Capitol building, so I decided to walk downtown and document as much of the happenings as I could.

I photographed the Rage Against the Machine concert (one of my favorite bands) and followed them, documenting as they marched with members of IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War). I photographed several other protests, including my first real cannabis march.

 

During one of these protests, I managed to get tangled up in a police induced bottle neck, was trapped and arrested along with over 100 other onlookers, photographers and activists. MY FIRST ARREST! 😳

 

It’s too long of a story to get into much further here, but it was quite an experience. 

 

I was charged with seven different crimes, bused to a freezing cold warehouse on the other side of town, held over night, refused legal counsel and eventually told that if I plead guilty, I would only face a year of probation, but if I plead not guilty I could face a year in prison. 

 

I refused to plead guilty to crimes I didn’t commit and was able to secure representation from civil rights powerhouse firm, Killmer Lane and Newman, thanks to help from The People’s Law Project (where I first met Brian Vicente, super-attorney, and one of the would be “godfathers” of cannabis legalization).

 

I sat through three days of a jury trial and was acquitted on all charges.  With the help of The Colorado ACLU, I was able sue the city and police for violating my First and Fourth Amendment rights. Read more about it on The Denver Post, if you like.

 

This stressful, but eye-opening experience left me with a strong interest in activism and a renewed distrust of authority. For the next few years, my camera seemed to be magnetically attracted to shooting protests of all types. While continuing to earn my degree and produce professional work in the studio, I also began shooting as many protests as I could attend (on all sorts of causes, including cannabis). 

 

MY SECOND ARREST

I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Photography in June of 2009… I was super happy and proud. Ready for the future! 

 

A month later, I was arrested for cannabis possession while driving through Illinois on the way to Michigan for my boyfriend's brother's wedding, for which he was the best man and I was the only photographer… MY SECOND ARREST! Very bad timing AND less than one year after my first arrest! 😂

 

The arresting officer treated the whole thing like a joke… but in all fairness, it kind of was. He put my boyfriend in his squad car, but was “kind enough” to let me drive my car (while technically under arrest) to the local police station. Because he "could tell that we weren't really criminals”. 

 

I’ll never forget how the officer kept commenting on my boyfriend’s ‘Rage Against the Machine’ t-shirt and talking about how much he loved the band… asking what our favorite songs were, etc. We're pretty sure this officer had never actually listened to any of RATM's lyrics, because the irony of what he was saying was definitely lost on that man with a badge and a gun.

 

Luckily, we had the funds for bail, so once we arrived at the station, we were processed and released with an order to return for court in a few weeks. We made it to the wedding without anybody finding out about our legal troubles.

 

The whole situation was expensive, time consuming and absolutely ridiculous… but it was still a best case scenario when it comes to drug arrests.  It cost me an apartment I wanted to move into a year later when I was denied due the arrest, it cost me several thousand dollars (which is A TON of money to a self-employed photographer just starting out) and a few days to travel to and from Illinois for the court date.

 

While it was a significant burden, it was nothing compared to what so many others face in these circumstances: it didn’t cost me my job (I was self employed), it didn’t cost me my education (I’d just graduated), it didn’t cost me my children (because I didn’t have any) and it didn’t cost me my freedom (see definition: privileged). 

 

Regardless of our "lucky" experience, I was still furious. Needless to say, this strengthened my already pre-existing interest in cannabis legalization efforts.

 

I couldn’t stop thinking about the protests I'd been to, the people I'd met and the cannabis community in Colorado that I knew was growing stronger every day. I felt like I was in the right place at the right time and might just be able to be a part of something I really cared about while being a witness to history in the making. After years of heavy, but harmless personal cannabis consumption and all the things I’d witnessed in my life, I was ready to get INVOLVED.

In my own personal life, I’d lost family members AND friends to both alcohol abuse and drinking and driving… but I’d never known anyone or even HEARD of anyone dying from cannabis use.

 

During high school in Texas, I’d seen my fellow students pulled over, searched and charged for cannabis possession. I knew how much future opportunity this cost them and it terrified me. As I grew older, and squirmed my way out of trouble enough times, I realized that this rarely happened to my white peers, but typically, it was the people of color being charged.

 

In the 90’s I watched what oxycontin and other opioids did to my mother. After multiple back surgeries, she was wheelchair bound by the age of 35 and need constant pain relief for what would be life-long chronic pain. I saw her doctors prescribe pill after pill and watched her become addicted to and nearly destroyed by the medication that was supposed to help her… the more she took, the less it seemed to help. It was ultimately killing her. 

 

In the 2000’s, when my father was fighting colon cancer, I saw the relief that cannabis gave him. Despite stubbornly refusing for several months, he was finally persuaded to try (illegal at the time) cannabis and was relieved to find it was the only thing that allowed him to eat food and keep down the other medications he so desperately needed... and that was just crappy brick weed. No fancy edibles, tinctures, or strain guides... even some cheap brown dirt weed and a metal one hitter helped him feel so much better.

 

I’d seen (time and time again) the hypocrisy, lunacy and downright cruelty that was our government’s war on cannabis and desperately wanted to see it stopped. I’d always thought there was a better option and now, I felt like I was actually able to be a part of making that better option possible… even if all I could really do was document the hard work of others.

 

I continued to work on building my business (providing portraiture and product photography to whatever clients I could find) and I spent more and more of my personal time focusing my camera on the cannabis community.

 

CANNABIS CAMERA

Over the next 10+ years, I just kept at it… I went to every event I could. Every party. Every seminar. Every protest, hearing, rally, fundraiser… as much as possible. I documented as much as I could, while I watched an entire industry spring up around me. 

 

As the industry evolved, my paying clients slowly shifted from random portrait clients and misc. product shoots to more and more cannabis industry clients.

 

As time went on, the Colorado cannabis community became like family to me… my friends from school had mostly moved away by then and I became more and more invested in this amazing group of people that were all, in their own ways, working to change the world.

 

After several years of cannabis industry work, shortly after Colorado passed Amendment 64, I decided it was time to rebrand. I moved away from my original branding (KimSidwell.com) and officially launched Cannabis Camera!  What had started as a personal photo documentary project had turned into a side hustle… and was now the backbone of my entire career!

 

My work in cannabis has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined…. It’s allowed me to travel to places I might not have otherwise, it’s introduced me to some of my dearest friends and it’s allowed me to witness history in the making! My camera and I had a front row seat to the first legal cannabis sale in America… the first legal hemp harvest and so many historical moments along the way. I’ve photographed and smoked with Snoop Dogg and Tommy Chong (as well as a ton of other super awesome people)!  

 

It’s given me something to point my camera at… a subject that I will never tire of… never be bored by and never feel like I’ve outgrown. It continues to give me a sense of accomplishment and meaning in my life. The cannabis community has given me purpose and provided some of the best moments of my life… and we’re only just getting started!

 

I could go on, but I think this is likely already longer than what most sane people will read… it’s just the shortest response I can muster when trying to answer those two common questions I get about Cannabis Camera.    The how and the why.