Galen Oakes is a photographer, visual creative, and entrepreneur who captures moments in a distinct, vibrant pantone of colors populated by subversive subjects in surrealist worlds. Check out his secret to success, his eclectic artistic style and his latest NFT release on Portion in the interview below.
Galen, you’re a man of many talents! Did photography get you involved in creative consulting or the other way around?
Both my parents are artists and I’ve always been a creative person. I was much more involved with writing when I was younger and when I found photography I realized it was more fun and stimulating to use a visual medium to express myself. The consulting aspect of my life came into play through some luck I was having in crypto back in 2018. I was referred by a friend to help a blockchain supply chain company. I started consulting with them and ended up doing creative direction, project management, and helping them launch their brand, site, manage marketing/PR, and everything else they needed to be done. That job led me to work with the co-founder on an industrial hemp venture and three years later we are partners of a new company inZEN, which creates compliant delta 9 vegan and sugar-free edibles. We are also working together with another group launching an exciting new technology company in the cannabis space.
What would you say is the biggest difference between your approach to creative vs professional pursuits, or are the two too heavily entwined to categorize?
For the last 10+ years, I’ve been a serial entrepreneur. The creative part of me has always integrated into whatever I’ve been building. In 2009 I started Manifest Media, a festival production company with my best friend Nelsen Brazil. This was the beginning of getting myself out there as an artist by working with Symbiosis, Lightning in a Bottle, and other California music festivals. I was then hired by Madrone Studios as their head of production and helped them scale their offerings and secure clients like Microsoft, TED, GoPro, etc. Their roster has since scaled to the biggest tech names in the space. I got offered to work with a PR Agency in LA and when I joined them we went from being a PR agency and distributing other people's content to pitching and producing our own creative and turning it into a creative agency. 18 months later I quit and started building an app called OpenCall that connected creatives, models, and brands for photoshoots and content creation. In 2018 I got connected with Mova the blockchain company that led me to work with Jeff on Golden State Hemp. The whole time I was working on all these projects I was shooting live events and press photos for DJs. In 2019 I pivoted from shooting music to shooting cannabis and launched a cannabis content studio, Dope Creative with my best friend Kelsea Rae. Kelsea is also the woman responsible for coming up with all the amazing creative ideas that are being featured on my 1/1 portion drop. Dope Creative started picking up more and more momentum and through Dope Creative I become more renowned in the Cannabis industry. I’m going through a pretty crazy time in my life. A year ago I thought I wanted to continue to grow Dope Creative and turn it into the biggest national cannabis creative agency. Today I am no longer working on Dope Creative. I am a 50/50 partner of inZEN, the CEO of GrassClass (Think of it as MasterClass but for all things Cannabis) and the Director of Creative and Technology of a national cannabis company in charge of creative and project managing some very exciting technology plays we believe are going to completely revolutionize the cannabis industry.
I think that the way I look at anything I take on is the same. I’m incredibly passionate, I didn’t attend higher education. I’ve always had to figure things out on my own. I’m resourceful, I’ve had to learn how to do many different things to get as far as I have. I always joke that my secret to success is “good google hunting”. I sometimes wish I went to college but at the same time I have found my own way to make it and because I wasn’t properly trained I have a unique perspective and I do believe that has benefited me in the long run.
You definitely have a unique perspective on things! What do you aim to capture at the moment your subject's photograph is being taken?
I’m always trying to capture a raw, beautiful moment. If it's a portrait, I’ll sometimes have them close their eyes and walk them through meditation for them to forget about where they are so they aren’t in their head, and as they open their eyes and begin to smile you can capture something very pure and authentic. If I’m shooting an artist I like them to play their music and connect with the energy they feel when they are on stage performing. If it's a fine art shoot with Kelsea and something creative it's all about creating a feeling that transports you into a dream full of color and possibility. It really just depends. The main goal for me is to reflect light and color and create something that reminds the viewer of how beautiful they are, or the world is. Perception is everything. I want it to be full of light, color, and possibility.
We love to see the vivid colors and incredibly fun lighting show up in your pieces. Would you say that’s your aesthetic or more just what you’ve been feeling lately?
My style is very eclectic. I was told that it's important to find your niche and the first way I expressed that was with these striking psychedelic color pieces. I then found my niche with Cannabis content. Today I’m looking for my next niche and I do have some ideas I’m working on now that I'm excited to share very soon.
That sounds exciting, we can't wait to see your next project! Turning to your extensive background in photography and coverage at many events around the world, which festival/event was your favorite? Which photo holds the greatest memory?
Burning Man is my favorite festival. My favorite photo at the burning man is my friend Icarus with his hands out watching the man burn. It is such a raw and powerful moment and if you look beyond Icarus you can see all the other moments that are happening in that photo. It's a moment in time and will always remind me how transformational that part of my life was.
How has New York shaped you as a creative entrepreneurial mind?
I haven’t spent much time in NYC but I would like to spend more time there. I’ve been living in LA for 10 years now and LA has certainly influenced me. It’s incredible to be in such a melting pot of cannabis, crypto, art, fashion, film, etc. It’s allowed me to be inspired at every turn and to be able to connect and create with so many different people in all the industries that I’m passionate about.
In terms of crypto and the Web3 space, how did you get involved and what have you learned from your journey into the world of NFTs and this community?
I originally got involved in crypto back in 2018. More recently in late 2021, I connected with Kelly and we launched a NFT project together. It was an incredible experience and I’m looking forward to continuing to work on and be a part of a movement that I feel very passionate about. The potential of NFT/WEB3 to me is to create a fair distribution of wealth and ownership through smart contracts, transparency, and collaboration.
The Fateful Youth NFT collection was insane! What was your favorite part about your involvement in the collection's creation?
My favorite part about Fateful Youth was dreaming of something truly insanely epic, and then meeting Kelly and making a plan with her on how we were going to make it happen. Kelly and I met in September and then reached out to all my friends and fellow creatives. We spent two months planning and on November 20-21 we rented a film studio and spent two days live generating an 800-piece NFT collection. There were a lot of firsts involved in this project but the piece I’m the most proud of is using the creatives that were involved in each piece as the rarity structure and coding them into the attributes. As a creative I know how often creatives are taken advantage of and it was important to me to code everyone into the smart contract so their value and contribution weren’t only a part of the metadata forever but their contribution to creating that piece could be quantified in a very real and tangible way.
Your mindfulness when valuing everyone's contribution is wonderful. What are your hopes for our generation in the next 10 years? Where would you like to see the world a decade from now?
I want to see technology being used to help us live more harmoniously with the planet. We have a lot of work to do with how we relate to ourselves and each other as well. At the end of the day, I think we just need to take a deeper look into who we are, what we actually need, and learn to work more collaboratively and for the greater good. It needs to be more about us than I. I’m excited to continue working with cannabis and hemp and using it to create medicine, food, fuel, plastic, hempcrete, building supplies, etc. This plant will allow us to not rely on foreign exports as much and will create millions of jobs domestically. I want to see blockchain technology being used to create a more fair distribution of wealth and power. It’s a very exciting time to be alive, I’m grateful that I was born when I was. I’m looking forward to doing everything in my power to meet and work with as many people as I can that are aligned in a vision greater than themselves, for the planet and the next generation.