This is a deck naturally born of controversy. Unabashedly positive about the world it depicts, it is a tourist's guide to the world of cannabis. Showing joyful users and growers, dedicated activists, and the green bounteous nature at the root of it all, it contains happy and celebrative images, as you would expect any tourist brochure to do. Its detractors, doubtless, would choose only to show the negative, and would find themselves no closer to the truth. Like France, there is a good side and a bad side to this world. But you'd hardly tell me to avoid the Cathedral of Notre Dame for fear of getting caught in the middle of another farmers' strike, would you?
Laurence Cherniak is an internationally known journalist, photographer and author. Responsible for The Great Books of Hashish, Cannabis, Marijuana and Hemp, he has earned a strong reputation within the hemp culture for his photojournalistic work, his activism, and his open and friendly personality. He has spent years living and documenting the life, business, ritual and ecstasy of cannabis. But his life is by no means limited to this one subject. An accomplished actor and artist (visit his web site for more details on his achievements and his loves), he has clearly spent his life going wherever his heart takes him. Nowadays, it's taking him to Costa Rica for some spectacular underwater photography.
In this deck, his heart takes him all over the world. The box itself pays homage to the progressive drug laws of Amsterdam, perhaps the only place in the world one can legally smoke cannabis for pleasure. Amsterdam is a beautiful place, and I regret that I was last there before I took up collecting playing cards. The backs of the cards depict calyxes of cannabis, containers of the resin from which hashish is concentrated. The jokers are called Tokers, and depict important people in the awareness and legalization movement, such as Dennis Peron (shown above), Timothy Leary, and Laurence Cherniak himself. In fact, Cherniak does not succumb to the conceit of never involving himself - he appears in a number of his own photographs, a participant as well as a witness. The images range from Nepal to Mexico, from California to New York, from seed to calyx to oil to Temple Balls.
The images we have from this deck don't cover it as well as I'd like, but I'm a slave to form, and I had to choose only four. So I picked representatives of the living plant, the refined product, the media, and the faces of the people. But each face said something different; there were pictures of places, things, plants and more, each of which came stamped with Cherniak's irreverent and joyous artistic vision, each of which revealed something new, from the sublime to the ridiculous, revelling in the simple pleasure of living their lives within their own grasp.
So come visit Laurence Cherniak's great world of hemp culture, the deck he calls his Wild and Crazy Cards, even if only to browse, and you will come away with a greater understanding of how people see it from within.
All images © 1998 Laurence Cherniak, used with permission, displayed
here for commentary, analysis and appreciation only.
Oh, and I apologize for the gratuitous swipe at France.