By Anna Ervin
Have you ever met someone with such an incredible attitude, that the more you get to know them the more you want to know them? The first time I worked with OKC photographer Jeff Hooten II, better known as CasedGod, I knew he was going to be one of those people.
Jeff is the type of person who greets you with a smile and a warm hug every time you meet, and never shies away from the opportunity to add a little light and color to someone’s world. However, his desire to make the world a more compassionate place was born out of his own struggles with opioid addiction. At the age of 19, Jeff overdosed on heroin for the second time in his life.
“The first time,” Jeff began explaining, one Thursday afternoon over pizza, “I was revived with Narcan. But the second time, I just woke up. And when I woke up, I didn’t have the same urges or desires anymore. I just had the desire to help people and I didn’t know where to place it.”
While attending a leadership academy in Arkansas, Jeff fell into the film track, learning to operate a camera and edit videos, among other things. “I was home,” he recalled. “It was like picking up a drug again. I picked up a camera and there was nothing better than that.”
“Addiction kind of isolates you as a person,” Jeff continued, “so you see the world through a different lens, or different perception. Because of that, I feel like I can see pictures before they happen, and time myself to be perfectly positioned to capture people in a light they may not typically get to see themselves in.”
“With my camera work all I want to do is inspire people to be the better versions of themselves. There was one point in time when someone showed me a picture of me, I was like, ‘woah. That’s me?’ In that moment I had instilled confidence, I had hope, I had faith. And I just continued to build off of that.”
I had invited Jeff to meet me in the Plaza in OKC to give him an opportunity to tell his story. Being the driven guy that he is, he showed up with all of his equipment and gear, ready to shoot. After reminding him that we were just there to chat about the things going on in his world, he laughed and admitted he’d been a little overbooked lately. Jeff is currently the CMO for 1440 Processing, on top of managing a photography business that takes him all over the state.
“The reason why I call myself CasedGod,” Jeff began when I asked about his brand name, “is that throughout my time in sobriety, I used cannabis and my faith to get through that. The bible talks about when you ask Jesus to come into your heart and transform your life, he comes and lives inside of you and works outwardly through you. It’s like a Cased God, or Encased God.”
“I’ve never been to college,” he explained. “I’ve never had any formal marketing training so everything I have and I’m able to do, I give all the glory to God. I used to stick needles in my arm and go hang out at a skate park. Never in my dreams would I think, ‘I’m gonna go shoot 50 cent tomorrow.’ Like that’s what I get to do.”
His journey to becoming one of OKC’s best event and cannabis photographers hasn’t always been easy, though. When Jeff first moved to Oklahoma, he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing in the cannabis industry. “At that time,” he told me, “the cannabis industry didn’t have such a social media presence as it does now. So I feel like I kind of had to carve my own path in that regard.”
Working at a local dispensary, Jeff began taking the opportunity to ask vendors to let him highlight their business or products free of charge. “For a good 6 months,” he explained, “I did a bunch of work for free, just kind of proving myself. And it was the best time in my life. I got to meet all the best processors, growers, chefs, cultivators, and extractors in the industry.”
“What it eventually did is it made a network for myself that, wherever I went, I had really really great relationships.”
This work ethic and dedication to his craft grabbed the attention of his current employer. “The boss had told me that he had been watching my Instagram for 6 months. His exact words were, ‘I love the way that you show people. I love the way that you highlight people’s businesses. I want you to work for my team.”
“With 1440,” he continued, “I’m representing some of the best brands in the nation. I’m actually going to get to travel around the country and film for Viola’s cultivation tours. I’m excited about that.”
Backtracking to his remark about the valuable relationships he had created through his work in the industry, I asked Jeff if he had received any noteworthy advice or inspiration from his community. He left me with this:
“Keep your head down and keep grinding. Don’t pay attention to the attention, because when you focus on anything but your work, you’re losing time. As hard as you can work, while you can work, do that.
“Don’t pay attention to people who are going to be negative. When you are succeeding, when you’re continuing to rise, you will be tested at every level, and if you’re not then you’re not truly making any progress.
“Any progress is forward progress. Pay attention to your micro wins and macro wins. Even the tiniest little bit of progress is something to be completely celebrated.
“When you’re going through trials, don’t get yourself down on it. Don’t focus purely on what the negative thing is, because at that point you’re giving your attention to it, and when you give your attention you give your energy, and the universe moves with energy.
“Get yourself out of the hole and continue to have a positive mindset and you’ll produce positive things. That’s the only reason why things have turned up for me through those tests & trials.”