Chad Unger documents his time living and working on a small-scale marijuana farm

The series – entitled Schedule I and now available as a 52 page zine – traverses all corners of the Californian farm, from its wide array of individuals to the working conditions and the infamous plant itself.

14 September 2022

It’s common knowledge that many aspiring or freelance artists often have to keep up a side gig to financially stay afloat. Some may take a job in the service industry, while some take up teaching; others may use their talents for commercial means. For photographer Chad Unger, however, this extra source of cash came from his work on a small marijuana farm in Northern California.

It was while working on the farm back and forth over several months that Chad soon realised how “bizarre” the scene really was. Featuring what he describes as a “motley crew” of artists, undocumented immigrants, people with debts to cover and some heavy weed smokers, Chad tells us that the atmosphere was relaxed – “we came and went as we pleased” – but somewhat fraught. “Our beds were in vans and tents strewn about the forests surrounding pot crops. Our meals were prepared and eaten in a filthy shared kitchen,” Chad details. “We all chugged beers and energy drinks between puffs of weed as we trimmed buds in hot, cramped and unkempt rooms.”

But what really pushed Chad to document the farm was recent changes in California law. “Seeing how weed is being legalised and big corporations are beginning to take over the industry, I felt the need to document one of the small farms, before they’re all gone,” the photographer says. This fact is one that enhances the series’ eerie, unsettling quality. Although still currently existing and operating, it appears as a ghost town that will soon become a desolate, forgotten landscape, nestled in a small plot of Californian woodland.

GalleryChad Unger: Schedule I (Copyright © Chad Unger, 2022)

The series delves into all corners of the farm. Its camouflaged surrounding area is shown with red signs warding people away, while its interior shows a fairly bleak, chaotic existence with plastic sheets preventing light from entering. Paraphernalia – both for smoking and trimming the plant – is scattered on tables and floors. Some elements of the series do, however, have a warmer edge. The shots of the plant before drying, with warm lighting seeping in from behind, show its luscious greenery; if it weren't for the distinctive shape of the leaves, the images could easily be mistaken for a shot of a beloved house plant. Chad’s portraits also have a certain intimacy and trust about them. In one image, a person is shown enraptured in her work, then later shown sat on one of the makeshift beds staring straight into the camera. When discussing how Chad manifested such sensitivity to these images, he explains that it was all about relationship building. “I was working alongside these people and stayed in the area for several months. I became familiar with the area and these workers became my friends. The place kind of turned into a summer home in the worst way possible.”

One image from the series stands out for Chad in particular – a picture showing a dilapidated room with drawings and writing scrawled across a white wall. There's an overused bed shown in the background. It’s an image Chad sees as strongly reflecting his own personal experience as a weed trimmer, and the loneliness and claustrophobia that often ensued. “I was stuck in this little room sitting on the same chair for at least 12 hours,” he shares, “not being able to participate in the conversations that were happening between other trimmers in the room, I was limited to just the thoughts in my head.”

Offering an insight into a section of the world many will never encounter, the series shows a side of drug manufacturing that is likely soon to become part of history in California. Looking back over the project, Chad hopes that it will instil a sense of empathy within its viewers, showing the lengths many creatives have to go to simply sustain their living.

GalleryChad Unger: Schedule I (Copyright © Chad Unger, 2022)

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Chad Unger: Schedule I (Copyright © Chad Unger, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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