Barrett Rogers is a pretty normal guy. He lives with his wife in Big Elk Meadows, about 10 miles outside of Lyons. Every morning he wakes up to the sounds of the forest before driving down the canyon to his two-room office and workshop — the new digs for his new business, Black Pine Design. The company uses photography, construction and design to create everything from marketing to in-store features for local businesses. The air inside smells of cannabis and sawdust.
While his helper is hard at work with a jigsaw in the next room, Rogers sits working at his computer in the back room, designing new product prototypes which he’ll later program his laser to build. More than half of the room is taken up by the cutting machine, an expensive and vital tool for this entrepreneurial designer, but also his favorite toy. Later, he’ll show me how it works, a bright red light shooting down into a thin piece of wood, sending the smell of burning wood through the air as it imprints my name in a blocky, western font.
I find myself surprisingly mesmerized by it all, but it’s nothing close to the glee it conjures in Rogers — and he gets to play with his toy everyday. With that sort of enthusiasm, I’m not surprised when he tells me he’d had trouble keeping jobs before starting to work in the cannabis industry — he’s definitely the artistic type with a penchant for the path less traveled.
Rogers spent his childhood in Massachusetts building things or else taking them apart — either way he was a restless kid, brimming with curiosity. The combination lends him his inventive spirit, but has also proven a challenge, especially when it comes to things like finishing college, which he eventually did, getting a degree in industrial design from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn that took seven years.
“I am doing what I do now because I get bored easily,” he says. “I’ve realized that the reason I can’t keep a job isn’t because I can’t do the work and perform, it’s because it gets so monotonous that I have to do something new to feel alive. The cannabis industry is that: there’s new products to invent, new design challenges to meet, new marketing to push and new problems to solve.”
His entrance into the industry came accidentally, doing odd jobs for Seven Ten Labs and a few small dispensaries in Colorado. In all of his meandering over the years, it turns out that Rogers had picked up an impressive repertoire of skills that proved useful to the burgeoning and rapidly evolving industry. He took product pictures, built display cases for emerging products like shatter and wax, and eventually started doing entire custom designs for retail stores.
As the market matures, Rogers notices that there is a lot more competition, but also a lot more freedom for designers and photographers like him to put their own unique sensibilities into their design. Rogers says the early days of slapping a pot leaf on a container and calling it marketing are long gone as the industry seeks more subtle and creative ways to brand and market their products in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love weed,” Rogers says. “I really do, but I do not like the pot leaf. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just fallout from not wanting to get pulled over by police for having a pot leaf sticker on my car, but I think the utility of that as a symbol is waning, at least in Colorado’s market.”
Whether in design or photography, Rogers distinguishes and explains his work as “world building,” using various techniques to catch viewers’ peripheral attention and transport them to an alternate reality.
His first experiments began in 2006 when he was building architectural models in New York. Everyday he would sneak a few figurines out of his pocket and reassemble them in various nooks, crannies and holes in the wall and leave them for an unsuspecting passer-by to discover.
To this day, he still uses figurines in his shoots. Just by adding two plastic dolls and a miniature umbrella, he’ll transform a piece of shatter into a sandy beach.
He carries the literal notion of world building into more technical projects too, stacking 40 or more shots, one on top of the other, until it looks like you could walk right into the photograph and go adventuring among the trichomes.
To get the shot, he keeps his process as close to his intention as possible. Unlike most cannabis photographers, Rogers doesn’t shoot cannabis in the light, he thinks the filters you have to use under the florescent light of grow rooms mutes too much color. Instead, he turns off the light and rummages around the plants, searching for the perfect bud and the perfect shot.
“Everything has its own best instance of getting shot,” he says. “I guess I just prefer taking the long way to get there.”