Mel Frank: When We Were Criminals

LOS ANGELES—When We Were Criminals, the debut solo exhibition by pioneer of cannabis botany and photographer, Mel Frank opens April 28 at the M+B Photo exhibition space located at 1050 North Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.

Mel Frank, When We Were Criminals
Mel Frank, Afghani1/Congolese backcrossed Afghani1, NY, 1982, archival pigment print

If you have consumed marijuana anywhere in the developed world over the past thirty years, you can most likely trace the variety you are consuming back to the work of Mel Frank and a handful of his California colleagues. Mel Frank, quite literally, wrote the textbook on marijuana. His 1978 tome, Marijuana Grower’s Guide Deluxe, was the first serious manual on how to grow cannabis. Combining research with practical experience, the book broke the seal on the often-secretive world of growers.

Mel Frank, When We Were Criminals
Mel Frank, Seeded Colombian Landrace, Backyard, Oakland, CA, 1979, archival pigment print

Mel was unique amongst his contemporaries in his love for documenting the process of marijuana cultivation as much as the product it yielded. His photographs were used as a means to chronicle and promote cannabis botany, illustrating numerous books and articles over his forty-year career. The images also served as the artist’s personal record of guerrilla growers and breeders who collectively helped create the seminal varieties that have come to define today’s marijuana. The photos are an intentional and descriptive record of what growing looked like at a particular time—before cultural acceptance, giant indoor grows and legalization. While representing long-ago criminality, they also represent innocence and optimism; many of the photos have a giddiness about them, an awe, maybe an aspect of braggadocio—look what we hid, see what we grew . . .

Mel Frank, When We Were Criminals
Norm Clasen, Purple Mexican, Oakland, CA, 1979, archival pigment print

Mel Frank, is the pseudonym of James J. Goodwin (b. 1944). He is a photographer, botanist and author of three cannabis cultivation books which combined have sold well over a million copies. A 1978 New York Times review of his Marijuana Grower’s Guide Deluxe—considered the “bible of bud”—launched Frank into the cultural mainstream, calling it “an extremely clear and interesting essay in practical horticulture, as accessible a study of a single plant, at this high level of seriousness, as one is likely to find.” Now a legend in the weed world for over forty years and known as the “godfather of marijuana growers,” Frank is a much sought after consultant, author, photographer, and expert on California’s newly decriminalized plant.

Mel Frank, When We Were Criminals
Mel Frank Cazadero, Sonoma County, CA, 1977 signed, titled, dated and numbered on artist label verso archival pigment print 50 x 33 1/4 inches, edition of 5 plus 2 artist’s proofs 30 x 20 inches, edition of 7 plus 2 artist’s proofs 20 x 13 1/4 inches, edition of 10 plus 2 artist’s proofs (MF.110.20)
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