Photographing Time

Photographing Time


World-famous distillery The Macallan breaks the boundaries by incorporating the art of photography with the meticulous process of whisky making.

Upon mentioning The Macallan, most people – especially whisky connoisseurs – would nod in respect. The household name dates back to 1824 to the heart of Speyside, Scotland, where it was one of the first distilleries to be legally licensed in the country. Now, almost two centuries later, The Macallan is one of the biggest distilleries in the world, thanks to its quality natural materials and traditional age-old methods and craftsmanship.

The brand, however, goes beyond distilling malts, as it also incorporates the art of photography to create a unique identity for itself. The Macallan Masters of Photography sees the distillery work together with highly talented and respected photographers to create series of collectible limited edition whiskies.

Over the years, The Macallan has worked with iconic photographers Rankin, Albert Watson, Annie Leibovitz, Elliott Erwitt and Mario Testino. For the sixth series, this year The Macallan collaborated with provocative photography and film artist Steven Klein, resulting in the thought-evoking Time Captured. The Roca brothers from El Celler de Can Roca fame in Spain also played a role in the equation by helping envision the unique tastes for the drinks.

Ken Grier

To celebrate the time-related work of art, The Macallan hosted an introduction and exhibition at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre last June, where guests were taken on a time-bending journey through cool and buzz-worthy installations. The Time Antechamber showcased models posing as Agents of Time – boasting a clever based optical illusion using lights and mirrors. Further down the road, the Fountain of Time showed droplets of water simultaneously falling and rising, symbolising how time seems to move back and forth. Guests were pretty much in awe of the mist curtain – on which two clocks were projected – leading to the main hall, where the party was at.

The morning after the party we got to sit down with The Macallan Creative Director Ken Grier to talk  about the creative process that birthed the Master of Photography series.

E: How did The Macallan Masters of Photography start in the first place?

Ken: I’ve loved photography since I was quite small, my father had a camera store, he sold cameras, he took pictures, I took pictures, so I’d always loved that. When I went to see our distributor in France, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, in about 2007, he asked me to come to the Château Mouton Rothschild. I drank some wine, saw the museum, and it was there that I was really struck by the fact that they had a great artist painting each of the great vintage labels, with different artists every year. Meanwhile nobody had really done anything in photography. Photography is interesting, because it’s contemporary, democratic, very happening – even in those days, very relevant and very cool. I suggested working with a photographer for a project, and I approached Rankin. We shot a beautiful project with the lady who’s now his wife, nude at the estate. It was meant to be just one shot, but my art director Valerie Wickes said, if we were going to do a thousand bottles, we should make a thousand shots. It was crazy, and Rankin said he really wanted to do it, in Polaroid nonetheless.

Ken Grier

E: What about the series with Steven Klein?

K: He had different projects to keep it fresh, keep it interesting, always with a little bit of a risqué touch at the heart to keep it interesting. I’ve been at the El Celler de Can Roca, so we came to the Roca brothers and asked if they could stretch the perception of what our drinks could be. The results were amazing, some of them were really crazy, with meat extract, vegetable extract, but we talked it through another three sessions with some great drinks, one was with licorice, another aperol spritz and ice bowl, and I thought these were really cool. Afterwards I met Steven, whom I really like – there was something odd about him, he’s very different, very dark, very interesting. I said as long as there’s something to do with Macallan, you can do anything you want. He was kind of obsessed with this idea of this moment in time and about this technique, so we went to this old machine tool factory, used enormous lighting and he got this bad projection going, they loved the clothing by Thom Brown – is it the past, is it now, is it the future, so very ambiguous. Steven wrote the words for the film and we recorded that. The whole thing is about this small tiny disruptive time, a moment so great you want it to last forever, and you just want to suspend time. It’s something different because we never started with moving film before, it was always stills, and we never had Macallan with different serves before. A bit edgy, a bit darker and cooler, it’s quite distinctive compared to what we’ve done before.

The next thing was putting together the package, we have the black leather, the prints are all signed, the bottle has a black run, the horse head stopper, the diorama, the recipes and the bar tools.