Jack Shelton is a tall, attractive kid from Melbourne’s beachside suburbia with a fetish for California and weed—or “spinach” as he calls it. He recently spent some time at San Jose State as part of an exchange program for his photography degree. While in California he fully embraced a culture that was about as far from his own as possible and even found time to make a trip down to Jamaica.
We spoke to him about making friends with a 50-year-old homeless dude and getting a medical marijuana license.
VICE: Your subjects are generally pretty socially removed from you, how do you go about approaching them?
Jack: Yeah I guess you’re always interested in things that are different from yourself and your own experience, especially as a middle class white Australian. Depending on my confidence levels at the time I find people pretty easy to approach if you just go straight in and ask them for their portrait, or get a little dialogue going. I think a lot of the time they are pretty open to being photographed. But for every portrait I got there were 10 others that I got rejected or pussied out.
I didn’t have the average college party experience, one of my best friends over there was a 50-year-old homeless man named Greg Glasper. It’s a long story but I ended up doing a documentary on him and going to his family’s house on Thanksgiving. He was actually the hardest to say goodbye too.
What made you leave California for Jamaica?
I’m really interested in Jamaica and the effect Jamaican culture has had worldwide. For such a tiny island with only two million people it packs a serious punch. I always wanted to go to Jamaica but wrote it off as too far away, but some friends were getting married there and I was lucky enough to score an invite and being in that general direction it only made sense.
Did you smoke a lot of weed there?
As you would imagine, a huge amount of weed was smoked. With taxi drivers at the airport offering it was never hard to come by. Westmoreland has the best Jamaican spinach if you find yourself in the area.
I heard you hooked up a medical marijuana license.
One of the pros of living in California is the absolute top grade spinach available. And to be able to basically walk into a shop and sit down with someone and discuss what the 30 or so different strains in front of you do and examine the different crystal structures under magnified glass and LED lights is a serious trip. Not to mention they have somehow managed to put weed in just about anything you can think of from Chronic Tonic (a soft drink) to bubble bath.
They take it seriously over there because it’s a big business. I got my license on my first day there from a physician on Venice beach, being a tourist I was ripped off. It was actually more difficult to get my iPhone working than to get a medical weed license. I was describing my shoulder injury to the doctor, who wore a stethoscope around his neck and I spied perusing a pipe shop, and he pretty much signed the prescription before I opened my mouth. That just got me the prescription, to make it legit I had to get a Californian drivers license—which I was able to get later on.
Sweet hustle. Why do you shoot on film?
It’s a different style of shooting, it slows you down a little and makes you think about what you’re photographing; and it’s less forgiving of error. I use Ektar overseas because I love the colours that come from the combination of Californian light and Ektar film. It has a feel that’s hard to get with digital, although with developing and scanning I sometimes question if it’s worth it
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