Alien Cake strain from Aurora Drift 📷: Craig Barker
Cannabis Close-ups: a series celebrating the people doing some of the most important photojournalism there is… documenting cannabis.
Craig Barker is a 34-year-old photographer from the UK who lives in Whistler, British Columbia and has a dream life: he’s making a career out of shooting eye-popping photos of cannabis plants and the buds that are produced from them (plus other THC-heavy byproducts like the diamonds). He moved to the legendary ski resort in 2011 and never left. “I came for the mountains and stayed for the weed,” says Barker.
His original plan was to try and make some money in the outdoor sports photography world and found some small victories, but he soon realized it would be an uphill battle. “I wasn’t going to be able to support myself shooting sports,” he explains, “it’s ultra competitive and the pay is subpar.” Barker says he had an “an epiphany” while smoking a joint near the lake: “Cannabis legalization was on the horizon in Canada and I was going to supply that new legal industry.” Soon after, Canada legalized recreational cannabis in 2018.
The photographer scored his first gig snapping photos for Whistler Medical Marijuana Corporation in 2017. It was the one of Canada’s first licensed cannabis producers and one of the first to ship live plants to patients—three years ago, the company sold for $175 million!
From there, he says his client list continued to grow. “Over the years I’ve shot for some of Canada’s best licensed producers and continue to do so, now with my business and creative partner, Kyle LeGrow.” California-based cannabis company Cookies, recently expanded into the Canadian market, and when they needed someone to shoot their frosty strains, they recruited Barker and LeGrow.
Barker says he smokes on the regular, but has decreased his consumption to focus more. Despite having access to some of the best flowers in the world, like many connoisseurs, he likes concentrates the best. “I prefer to dab now as concentrates, such as live rosin, have really evolved to become the best way to consume,” he explains. “It’s a smoother smoke with way more terps and it’s better for your health in my opinion. But it’s the plant that produces all these goodies that still fascinates him most.
“It’s a real privilege to capture these beautiful plants,” says Barker, “they continue to surprise and inspire me.” When asked if any particular strain stands out, he highlighted the BC Black Cherry strain (pictured in the two photos above), grown by Flowr in Kelowna, British Columbia. “Its structure is wild and its bright purple color blew my mind.”
The photographer says there are very notable differences between sativa and indica-dominant cultivars, but “everything’s been crossed so much now, that everything is a hybrid, finding pure sativa or pure indica landraces is difficult these days.” Interestingly, Barker explains that indicas provide for a more dramatic image. “The leaves are more imposing and I love darker plants with reds and purples,” he says. Some of his images, particularly the macro-photography that zoom in on the trichomes, look almost alien and otherworldly. The hues are also incredibly rich.
Barker notes that he probably wouldn’t even have a career doing this cannabis photography if it weren’t for the Canadian government legalizing weed federally, and despite the nation’s imperfect system, it has created more successes than failures. As for the United States, he doesn’t think the federal government will move the dial until it becomes a bigger priority of the big-wig drug companies. “Cynically, I believe US federal legalization will happen when big pharma stands to make more money than they’ll lose, same with the prison system…it’s all about money.”