Creative Brief: Anja Charbonneau

When the recreational use of cannabis was legalised in Oregon, Anja Charbonneau, the former creative director of Kinfolk, saw an opportunity to merge her love of print with the burgeoning movement. In 2017, she and her all-female team launched Broccoli, a marijuana-appreciating journal exploring weed culture through the arts and fashion.

“For many of our readers, Broccoli was the first time they saw cannabis shown in a positive way that felt authentic to their experiences,” she explains. “That sense of belonging and having your reality justified is really powerful, and it’s paired with major cultural shifts happening around the globe regarding cannabis.”

What does original photography bring to the magazine?
Original photography is crucial to Broccoli, because our interpretation of cannabis culture has never been seen before. It feels dramatic to say that, but it’s true! Our debut issue came out a year and a half ago, and our first cover story featured still-life shots of Japanese ikebana-style floral arrangements created by Amy Merrick using hemp and other seasonal flowers. The reaction to the images was very powerful, because readers interpreted cannabis in a way that felt accessible and beautiful, pushing forward our goal to help normalise cannabis. Defining a positive visual language for the cannabis world is a big part of reducing the stigma.

Is it difficult to innovate?
We often joke that it feels like you could take any tired idea, add weed to it, and have something new and exciting. It’s obviously not that easy, but there is a truth to it. Cannabis touches so many parts of life, and as a point of inspiration it feels endless. The science is fascinating, and still so undeveloped due to the plant being largely illegal, and therefore studies have been restricted. The history and politics are troubling and so deeply interwoven with the racist criminal justice system, so these discussions are crucial and require a lot of thoughtful voices. We also consider the fun parts, such as the role weed plays in creative expression, or the way that cannabis can be a strong point of connection for people.

Issue 06, cover © Nong Rak.
Top: Issue 01, Seeking Arrangement, floral designs by Amy Merrick, photography © Anja Charbonneau.
Bottom: Issue 04, styling by Carrupt Louis, photography © Chu Eva.

Is it important for photographers to be on Instagram?
It is the primary way that I discover new photographers, so yes. It’s an easy way for me to see a photographer’s point of view, and I gain a greater understanding of how they work or what interests them than I would through a polished portfolio. This is especially important for editorial work, because there’s so much room for creative expression and I’m not always looking for a super-specific final image. If I was shooting commercial work, or something more product-focused, I’d place more importance on the portfolio. I love behind-the-scenes, outtakes, production shots, and Instagram is a fun opportunity for artists to show a holistic picture of their work.

Issue 02, The Sexual Power of Marijuana, photography © Anja Charbonneau.

Is there a photographer with whom you particularly enjoyed working?
Our latest summer issue’s cover story is all about butterflies. Broccoli’s editorial scope isn’t limited to cannabis content only – we also talk a lot about history, art, music, nature, and ideas that spark curiosity and delight. Butterflies are so magical and symbolic, but we had to figure out a way to express the wild diversity and scope of the butterfly’s influence on culture without having access to an active butterfly migration, or trying to plan a shoot in a butterfly sanctuary. So I approached the photography, fashion and styling team Nong Rak, a talented couple who I originally started following for their unique approach to selling vintage clothing online, though their work expands beyond this. They are always surprising me and there’s an energy of kindness and fun that filters through everything they make. The shoot inspired us to work butterflies into the issue’s design throughout, so you’ll find them delicately perched on our type, or flying across a page.

Do you give strict photography briefs?
I don’t think I have created a single brief in the seven issues of Broccoli so far. I am often pleasantly surprised when a shoot comes back more magical, strange and wonderful than any of us could have planned for. You have to leave room for spontaneity and happy surprises.

This article was originally published in issue #7887 of British Journal of Photography magazine. Visit the BJP Shop to purchase the magazine here.

Izabela Radwanska Zhang

Starting out as an intern back in 2016, Izabela Radwanska Zhang is now the Editorial Director of British Journal of Photography in print and online. Her words have appeared in Disegno and Press Association. Prior to this, she completed a MA in Magazine Journalism at City University, London, and most recently, a Postgrad Certificate in Graphic Design at London College of Communication.