If you have consumed marijuana anywhere in the developed world over the past thirty years, you can most likely trace the variety you are consuming back to the work of Mel Frank and a handful of his California colleagues. Mel Frank, quite literally, wrote the textbook on marijuana. His 1978 tome, Marijuana Grower’s Guide Deluxe, was the first serious manual on how to grow cannabis. Combining research with practical experience, the book broke the seal on the often-secretive world of growers.
Frank was unique amongst his contemporaries in his love for documenting the process of marijuana cultivation as much as the product it yielded. His photographs were used as a means to chronicle and promote cannabis botany, illustrating numerous books and articles over his forty-year career. The images also served as the artist’s personal record of guerrilla growers and breeders who collectively helped create the seminal varieties that have come to define today’s marijuana. The photos are an intentional and descriptive record of what growing looked like at a particular time—before cultural acceptance, giant indoor grows and legalization. While representing long-ago criminality, they also represent innocence and optimism; many of the photos have a giddiness about them, an awe, maybe an aspect of braggadocio—look what we hid, see what we grew... When We Were Criminals is on view through June 9 at M+B Photo 1050 North Cahuenga Boulevard, Hollywood. photographs by Oliver Kupper