This week I am getting ready to embark on a journey back to California. Many of you know that I have been working on a project called, Faceless, for a while now. My intent was never to do a study or a project over cannabis farmers, it just sort of turned out that way.
In 2012 I won a photography contest and it took me to Belize. Myself and two girlfriends, Hannah and Darlene, flew into Belize and proceeded to take a bus down to Costa Rica over the course of a month. It was the time of my life. It was an indescribable feeling to see new parts of the world with such dear friends. We had some amazing adventures!
We had finally made it to Costa Rica, our end point. Hannah and I had to leave the day before Darlene, due to different flights. The day that we left, Darlene met the infamous farmer where I would end up the next few years. He just happened to be from Texas, where we are from. A few months later, he came to Texas to see his family. He hit us up and we all hung out. He invited us out to the farm. Our curiosity was getting the best of us and we decided to go and see what it was like.
That week changed my life.
I had never seen such beauty. Well, maybe I had, Switzerland was unreal. But this beauty was different. I was in it. The feeling that the redwoods give off is something unexplainable. You feel really tiny and insignificant at times. I wonder if I wrote a journal entry about it when I got back? I’d be interested in what I said about it then.
We were there for a week and some change. I took photos,naturally, but more of the redwoods than anything. I didn’t know the rules on photos and I didn’t ask. Before we knew it, it was time to go back to the “real world”. Damn.
We had kept in touch over the year and he invited us to come out again in 2013. We stayed for another week. After that, I wanted to come stay for longer. I loved being out in the woods like that. There used to be a point where I was scared to walk at night in the woods. Then it dawned on me, there’s no one out there. It’s more dangerous to walk on a dark street in a big city than to walk down the dirt road where you know the neighbors for miles and miles. I became so comfortable there. I adored waking up to birds singing and going to bed to the frogs. I loved that I could walk outside and pick fresh herbs and vegetables for the meal I was cooking. I felt at home. I always thought I was an ocean person because I grew up offshore fishing, but it wasn’t long before I realized that I belonged in the woods.
By 2014, the farmer and I eventually talked about me coming out there for a few months. I was mainly interested in photographing him farm. I loved that he grew all of his own vegetables and got all his water from a spring under the ground. I was amazed how much he knew and how great his green thumb was. Being from the city, I hadn’t done much gardening. Granted my grandparents gardened a lot of my life, I was little and just played in the yard while they gardened. It was a whole new world I wanted to learn more about and I loved the challenges of living off the grid.
In order to go out there for an allotted amount of time, I was faced with quitting my full time job with benefits. (it was temp job trying to pay the bills while doing freelance photography that turned full time. I cried when I took the full time because I didn’t want to lose sight of photography, then I cried when I told them I was leaving them- but happy tears.) I had known about me going out to California and I started saving, saving, saving. When I quit, it was one of the scariest and most liberating things I have ever done. It is something that I look back on and I know that I made the right decision.
I went out to the farm in 2014 for three months. It was then, being immersed in it, that I realized how unique it truly was. I was just photographing the farmer that allowed me to come out. Then I met all of the neighbors. I loved them. Real, down to earth people. In all the years that I had gone out there, I had never left the one farm I went to. I hadn’t met any other neighbors and you don’t go in uncharted territory. But when I did meet them, I loved them. The three months came to an end and I went back home for a bit. When the next season came up, I asked to come back out again. I didn’t think that I had what I needed for my story. Honestly, at that point, I didn’t know exactly what my story was. I just knew that I loved the woods, I loved the people, and I loved the counterculture.
I went back in 2015 and lived out there for about 8 months. I worked at the local newspaper, which was neat, and I worked on my project. Thing was, no one wanted me to take their portraits. Understandably so. I put my camera down and truly got to know everyone out there. I got to know myself as well. It was a huge challenge. I learned how to work a water pump, cut a tree down, chop wood, farm, can foods, harvest vegetables, run a tiller, and more.
For the most part, I photographed the farmer, myself, and landscapes. I like to call them cannascapes. As time went on, I became more interested in the lifestyle and the culture that was out there. I wasn’t about cannabis anymore. It was about how the people lived out there, off the grid. It was about the question of their happiness. It was about the community they had in the valley. And another question that arises is: Are they successful?
So, with all of this being said, I have a new perspective on the project. An anthropological view. More of a study on the counterculture and how they live and the level of their happiness. I sincerely believe that since they live in nature, they are more mentally happy than one who resides in the city and has not been exposed to camping or have a place to hike in nature.
I have a meeting with an cultural anthropologist from Texas State, Richard Warms, to pick his brain on the subject of doing studies. I am really excited about how my project has shifted and what it is turning into. I have five oral history interviews set up for when I get out here. I am hoping that I will get more once I get out there. All of my portraits will be faceless, unless they say otherwise. I hope to get video footage as well to mesh all of these components together to show the how this counterculture really is.
It is interesting to look back and see how this all happened. One moment, I’m sitting on my bed entering photo contests and the next I’m on a plane to Belize. If I have learned anything on this journey, it’s to take risks. You never know where you’ll end up! It hasn’t been easy, though. Unfortunately, I lost part of my family for about two years, because they didn’t agree with me that I should be on a cannabis farm. But I had a goal and when I have a goal set, I go do it. I felt alone but I knew this is the forefront of an era. I knew this was something special and frankly, I loved being there. Thankfully we have mended the wounds since then. I missed them so much.
Point is- do what you feel is right and follow your heart. No matter what people think of you. Life is full of tough decisions, but that is what makes us who we are.
I will be posting my trip and the behind the scenes on snapchat. I will be heading to Colorado to see a friend, to Utah, Vegas, California and Oregon. You can follow me here: dlhermes
Thanks for reading!