JoJo Valente, a.k.a. The JoJoSnaps, has found her place in cannabis through photography, using her craft to share the many stories and characters throughout the cannabis industry and broader community. The first inklings of her Puff Portraits series began in 2020, and since then, she’s captured some of the most notable people in the culture.
Pot Meets Portraits
Now based in Huntington Beach, California, Valente fell in love with photography during her freshman year of high school. After securing a marketing degree from California State University, Chico and a photography degree from Orange Coast College, she traveled the world taking photos while searching for her specific niche.
“What I actually love to capture, and what I’m passionate about, is personalities,” she said. “When I’m looking back on the photo, it’s not just a very well-manicured, properly lit photo of a beautiful person; it’s something where you want to look at it longer and you want to know the story behind it.”
Valente was a “closet cannabis user,” who embraced the “stoner artist crowd” in college and wondered if and how cannabis use fit within a professional role. After having her second child, and subsequently questioning where her creative career was headed, she befriended a number of cannamoms and created JoJoSnaps, her alter ego and the moniker behind her weed photographer identity.
During a February 2020 trip with her friends for a San Francisco cannabis wedding expo, the group found themselves in a cherry blossom field and Valente captured her first Puff Portrait.
“It was this influencer, The Mommy Jane, and I took a photo of her consuming,” she said. “When you consume, the first thing you think about is blowing clouds. So that very first Puff Portrait is almost a diffused photo where you can’t see a face because it’s just that cloud. That was the first one, and then the world closed down.”
The Dance of Smoke
Valente started toying with cannabis photography and found that taking a Puff Portrait involved far more than simply taking a snapshot of someone getting high. There was a coaching aspect, a method to ensure these pictures are truly beautiful. There’s a difference between blowing a cloud and letting the heat rise out of your mouth, allowing the smoke to dance, she said.
“I really got obsessed with the unknown elements that the smoke was creating,” Valente said.
She then began playing with the shutter speed, lighting, shadows—simply leaving room for experimentation. Once the world opened up again, she sold her portraits as an activation at events.
“As an event photographer, you’re not valued as much in the industry,” she said. “I hate to say that, but that’s just how it is. You know, everybody has an iPhone. Everyone thinks that event coverage is just an afterthought, but I noticed people were paying a lot for these activations.”
Puff Portraits grew into an experience for the cannabis community that gathered at events and Valente saw how much empowerment her photos provided. She compared the reactions she gets to a bride seeing wedding photos, but Puff Portraits aren’t premeditated—folks don’t expect to get one.
“To show up to an event, to support a friend or a brand or as a girls’ night out or whatever the case may be, and then to come home with this actual piece of ad-worthy artistry of yourself for no cost; the way people accept it and are taken back by it, that’s the most humbling,” she said.
Puff, Puff, Pass
Valente now sees her presence all over the professional cannabis space, as dozens of industry players have maintained their Puff Portrait as their profile photo on social media.
“I’ve created a repeatable process,” Valente said. “The goal is more cultures, more brands, more events. It’s time to make it bigger than myself.”
Puff Portraits is now trademarked, and Valente is working as director of marketing at SHO Companies, an umbrella corporation specializing in manufacturing, distribution, retail, and product development for the cannabis industry. The company is overseeing Puff Portraits as a joint venture.
Valente has trained a number of photographers on her process and is expanding, ready to show off the different faces and forms the community takes, and she’s eager to continue expanding beyond the West Coast. Her current role as an executive in the cannabis space reflects the grit and tenacity she embraced when the series was in its infancy.
“I’m literally telling [male cannabis professionals] what they’re doing wrong and how to make it better, in a way where they need to receive it, turn it on and not be like, ‘Who does she think she is?’ I would never question them on their cultivation or their brand or whatever, but this is my lane,” she said. “Having the confidence to be able to do that in these settings, I feel like it was kind of the golden key to the industry. It smashed down so many doors for me.”
Valente admitted that you’re only as good as your next great idea, and she’s ready for Puff Portraits to head off on its new path.
“I’m humbled by all of it,” she said. “I love making people feel empowered, and pretty strong and masculine and however they take it. I just love invoking those feelings.”
This article was originally published in the November 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.