Maureen Drennan is a photographer born and based in New York City. Of her series ‘Meet me in the Green Glen’ she writes:
‘This is an intimate look at a marijuana grower in California. We met a year ago and through this project have become close. Although marijuana is legal to grow and use in California within strict guidelines, there are situations in which it is still illegal. It is not culturally acceptable to grow or sell despite the fact that many people in the area grow pot and it is a large part of the local economy. Every year this grower, Ben, hires young men to help with the harvest season. They work for about one month and then he is alone again. The story I am communicating is not simply about pot growing, it is also about the experience of a socially isolated person and our relationship. Ben is obsessed, a little dark, and exists in an out of the way place.’
‘This series is by no means an authoritative documentary on pot farming. I am subjective and am much more interested in revealing a psychological reality and emotion or feeling than recording the photographic truth.’
How did you first come across Ben, the main subject, and his marijuana farm?
‘In the summer of 2008 I was in Northern California for my friends wedding and I met Ben in a motorcross shop. He was drinking beer, actually all the staff in the shop were, it was about 2pm and you couldn’t really tell who was staff and who was just hanging out, so…very lively group. I poked fun at his early happy hour and we hit it off. He was excited that I was from out of town and invited me up to his farm the next day.’
Regarding the image of the pick up truck filled with marijuana, is there a backstory to this image?
‘I was interested in the way the plants looked, piled high, in this old truck. There were a few (very young) workers who jumped into the scene and were eagerly posing with the truck and plants and I took a few shots just for them. It was pretty funny, they were acting exactly like you would pose in a snapshot with friends at a party or on the beach or something. Trying to look cool for the camera, showing off the weed.’
Were any of the workers on the farm reluctant to have their photographs taken due to the nature of the business?
‘I am close to Ben and so I am trusted by the workers. I never use the workers’ real names and it is never clear exactly where the farm is so they have thankfully been okay with having their photographs taken.’
Your images don’t give anything away with regards to location. Were there certain perimeters that you had to follow as a photographer in order to maintain the security of the farm?
‘I didn’t have to follow any parameters but chose to in order to not jeopardize the safety of Ben and his workers.’
Lookout Hill, 2009
Can you talk a little about the ‘lookout’ area?
‘The lookout area is where his workers, the guys he hires during the 1-2 month harvest season, sleep and keep guard over the farm at night. They are protecting the farm from being robbed.’
From your images, Ben seems to be somewhat of a loner. But yet, you’ve photographed him taking a bubble bath. How did your relationship with Ben evolve over time?
‘On that initial visit to his farm he didn’t want to be in any photos. However, on subsequent trips I made out there, our relationship grew and he started to trust me more and didn’t mind being the subject of my images. We are very close now and so he feels very comfortable being photographed. I’ve been photographing him, his workers and the farm for three and a half years. We are close, he completely opens up to me and exposes himself emotionally and legally. When I travel to the farm to shoot I’m alone and at times feel vulnerable. Elements of this project are about the distance between us and our closeness.’
Going Up to Alaska, 2009
Were there any memorable moments that happened while you were photographing Ben on his farm? Any funny outtakes?
‘There are so many funny stories! I don’t know where to begin…well, Ben and his workers often make fun of me because I’m from New York and know very little about farming and rural life. I call Ben “country mouse” and he calls me “city mouse”. When we were doing the bathtub shoot we were playing music loudly and he was singing along to this old country tune by Johnny Horton called “Going North to Alaska”.’