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Marvin Lee Stohs’ Cannabis Photos Are ‘Out of This World’

Surface Area

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Marvin Lee Stohs’ Cannabis Photos Are ‘Out of This World’

Platinum Kush Breath by Justin Magill and live resin from Gold N’ Grams. PHOTOS Marvin Lee Stohs (Surface Area)

Marvin Lee Stohs’ Cannabis Photos Are ‘Out of This World’

Photographer Marvin Lee Stohs captures cannabis under a microscope, revealing alien lands and unfathomable beauty.

When it comes to cannabis photography, Marvin Lee Stohs is a name worth remembering.

Working out of Washington State, the 30-year-old, better known online as Surface Area, has quickly become an in-demand photographer of buds, batters and all things weed. Known for his insanely detailed shots — what Stohs calls “a glimpse into an alien world” — the lensman’s indelible work has netted him more than 35k followers on Instagram alone. Stohs’ success isn’t a simple matter of luck, however and it doesn’t come from simply pointing a camera and hitting the shutter. His rocky journey to the top has been paved with hard work at every step along the way.

A self-taught photographer, Stohs launched his professional career nearly a decade ago when he found work with international clients, as well as several Burlington, VT-area head shops that hired him to photograph vaporizers. But, starting in 2017, the success of Initiative 502 in Washington State (passed in 2012) inspired Stohs to switch gears and test his talents in the then-nascent legal cannabis industry. Long before deciding to focus on super macro cannabis photography, Stohs says that he listened to his gut and combined his dual passions — photography and cannabis — and that proved to be extraordinarily valuable.

“Vaping was becoming kind of unpopular at that time, and as soon as weed became legal, I knew there was going to be some type of market for photographers in the industry,” Stohs said.

Stohs’ photography contains many creative cannabis works such as this nug in the sky.

Stohs says his own approach and ultimate aesthetic in much of his work is inspired by some of the biggest names in cannabis photography, including Sean Moore (Dankshire) and Erik Christiansen (Nugshots). At the same time, the budding photographer also knew it was vital that he get a body of relevant work under his belt as quickly as possible.

“I basically did what every beginning cannabis photographer does,” Stohs said of his first attempt at establishing a name for himself. “I went to the weed shop, bought one of my favorite products sold by the company, took pictures of it, and posted it on social media and tagged them. Then you hope that they’ll take the bait and send you a direct message the next day asking about your pictures.”

He was an instant hit. Almost immediately a popular Washington cannabis brand reached out to Stohs and commissioned him for work — some of which was later featured in High Times. It was, according to Stohs, exactly the type of recognition and cache he was hoping for. And things have only gotten better from there.

Jelly Biscuit from Solfire Gardens.

Instagram Troubles

Today, Stohs’ work is collected on Instagram, where a scroll through his feed reveals a veritable kaleidoscope of far-out, expertly captured images of cannabis in all forms. Whether he’s soliciting followers to guess the weight of a jar of badder or sharing his latest shots from Washington’s top cultivators and extractors, the business of being a cannabis photographer is one Stohs conducts exclusively through the ubiquitous social media platform.

But as legions of influencers, brand and content creators can attest, life as a cannabis-affiliated Instagram poster is also one frequently fraught with fear and anxiety, due to the platform’s seemingly never-ending crusade against weed.

“It’s really difficult to be a content creator in today’s age, especially with how many restrictions are being put on cannabis content shared on Instagram and Facebook,” Stohs weighs. “I constantly live in a state of anxiety every time I press ‘share’ on any posts, on any account that I work with. I’m worried that my posts might get flagged or that my account may be deleted for the tenth time.”

A close-up look at a jar of seeds from Cloneworld Northwest.

In total, Stohs says his main Instagram handle @surface_area999 has already been pulled a staggering 15 times. Though he’s been able to successfully recover it in each instance, Stohs explained that cannabis photographers relying on the platform remain in an anxiety-inducing situation, without much hope for change.

“That’s my entire business,” he says. “I don’t have any other websites or social media platforms. I run my entire business on Instagram, so it’s very, very stressful for me to be living like this all the time. I’ve also seen a lot of social influencers who are switching to different apps and kicking themselves in the butt because they lost their 60k follower-strong account that they’d worked more than a decade to build. I hope it gets better, but I just don’t think it will.”

Trichomes sparkle on a Cat Piss plant from ZOZ Wellness.

Flower Power

While Stohs’ nerves surrounding Instagram show no signs of waning, he’s on firmer ground — almost upbeat — when it comes to the issue of destigmatizing cannabis. Recalling his own upbringing, Stohs shared that his mother was once fervently anti-cannabis, going so far as to tell him that anyone who smoked weed would “never amount to anything.”  Though the process wasn’t easy, Stohs says his mom has subsequently come around on the subject. Now, as a father himself, he’s enjoying the results of taking a decidedly different approach to cannabis with his own daughter.

“When I was growing up, I always felt afraid to get in trouble because of weed,” he said. “So, today, being able to sit on my back porch and watch my daughter run around with pot leaves from weed plants we’re growing and showing her how to grow and how to trim… it’s just a super remarkable feeling. In my daughter’s young mind, it’s got to be the complete opposite of how we felt as children. I come home with weed, and she tells me it’s beautiful because I’ve taught her that weed is, in fact, a flower.”

GMO Terps on the Rocks by Gold N’ Grams.

Beyond his efforts to normalize cannabis within his own immediate family, Stohs’ striking photography also gives the rest of us another medium to appreciate the plant’s natural qualities and transcendent beauty. One of his new favorite approaches is objective microscopic photography, in which fields of glistening trichomes and rich globs of concentrate are revealed in detail unavailable to the naked eye. Even though Stohs is the one taking the photos, he says he’s still personally blown away by what his camera reveals.

“At this point, a lot of us are getting into objective microscopic photography. We’re taking pictures that you can’t see unless you’re using a fucking microscope!” he says incredulously. “Look, a lot of people might think that they’re ‘just taking pictures’ but I disagree. No, I don’t take pictures; I take super-macro pictures of alien worlds within plants. The moment I saw how otherworldly this stuff looks in this format, it just immediately had me hooked.”

This story was originally published in issue 42 of the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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