Jelena Martinovic: Your series Meet Me in the Green Glen, which provides an intimate look into the life of a cannabis grower in California, was recently exhibited in a group show at the Mrs. Gallery. Tell us more about this body of work. How did you find about this place and decide to explore it?
Maureen Drennan: The Mrs. Gallery show was so exciting—I was in excellent company. The project Meet Me in the Green Glen is an intimate look at a reclusive marijuana grower in Northern California. He was an isolated man whose environment was both ominous and verdant. We met several years ago and through this project became close. I photographed him for about nine years, and the laws and stigma around marijuana cultivation have changed in California. Despite the fact that many people in the area grow pot, and it is a large part of the local economy, many farms, his included, are not legal. They either grow more plants than is allowable or grow much larger plants than is legal. Also, you cannot transport more than a certain amount of weed, which poses a huge problem after harvest season. Every year Ben hired young men to help with the harvest.
I met Ben serendipitously in a clothing store in Northern California. He wasn’t a worker there, he was just hanging out drinking beer at 3 p.m. so I teased him about his early happy hour amongst the racks of clothes. He teased me right back, “Well, where do you live that you can't drink beer in a public place?”
I replied, “Well… NYC,” and he said, “Ohhhhh, city mouse,” and our friendship began. We hit it off right away, and he invited me to his farm to photograph it.
The farm was like a slice of Eden. He had animals, lots of pot plants, but also vegetables, trees and a man-made pond with geese and ducks. During harvest season when the plants were tall and the buds were ripe, the entire farm smelled like weed. On warm days, it was intoxicating to be there.
At first, he didn’t want any pictures taken of him, just the farm, so I respected that. But then I returned a few months later and explained that what interested me more than an illegal pot farm was him, the man running it. I said I would never implicate him, and he trusted me so I photographed him for years. Our friendship grew, and I was honored to be considered a member of the family. He would tell me all kinds of stories about his life and would get so excited telling them, like it was an adventure.It’s interesting because, for me, being with him was an adventure. He sadly just passed away, and I feel lucky to have known him. He was extremely funny, charming and a great bullshit artist. He would tease me mercilessly when I took my time making portraits of him: "Jesus Christ, City Mouse, I don’t have all fucking day!"
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For Drennan's latest body of work she sought out subjects in liminal spaces — places outside homes, transit hubs, as well as secluded or marginal places where there is a particular kind of lonely poetry. Through encounters from locals, and those existing on the margins she was able to engage with spaces where as she says, "where certainties temporarily dissolve, where we often aren’t sure what's coming next. " To learn more, please click here.