Life through a lens

Life through a lens

Rob Allanson goes behind the scenes of The Macallan's latest ambitious project and gains exclusive access to the people involved.

People | 16 Jan 2009 | Issue 77 | By Rob Allanson

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There is a similarity, a synergy even, between the world of photography and distilling that I had not really thought of until this breathtaking project came along.The photographer captures a moment in time on film, or less romantically on a digital card these days. It can generally only be of that moment, once the moment has past then that’s it – Bresson’s so-called ‘decisive moment’.Looking at distilling in the same light the links are clear. The arm in the spirit safe swings across to the bowl to collect the heart of the run. This is the moment in distilling terms. If missed then that’s it basically.Ok I realise that is a fairly romanticised view of things, but seriously when you think about it, the handcrafted and artisan qualities of both, you can see why The Macallan chose to invest in such an interesting and daring collaboration.Interesting because when you buy a bottle you are getting a genuine, one-off piece of art, and daring because, well, everyone’s a critic when it comes to art.What sets this project apart from anything else so far conceived in the whisky world is the access afforded to Scots born photographer Rankin in his quest to interpret The Macallan world through the camera lens.Returning to his homeland, Rankin, born in Paisley, best known for his fashion photography and portraits of everyone from The Queen to Madonna, was invited to The Macallan’s Speyside estate to interpret the iconic whisky brand. Nowhere was off limits and nothing was too much during the two weekend shoots at Easter Elchies house and the distillery, allowing Rankin and his muse, the model Tuuli, to explore and capture their take on Macallan’s world. The result is a series of 1,000 stunning mostly black and white images, captured on Polaroid film. Each limited edition bottle of rare 30 Years Old Macallan Fine Oak single malt displays a bespoke label featuring one of the Rankin images, accompanied by the original Polaroid.The array of images captured by Rankin is breathtaking, depicting a range of locations around The Macallan estate, including Easter Elchies House, the distillery, dedicated craftspeople and still life images of the surrounding flora and fauna.Many of the images are further enhanced with artistic nude studies, featuring Tuuli, Rankin’s muse.This collection of 1,000 unique, individual works of art is a world first and will be sold by luxury retailers worldwide.Ken Grier, director of malts, The Edrington Group, explains further: “Our partnership with Rankin really is something different and daring for the Scotch whisky sector due to the range of images that will be featured on the bottle labels and we believe that there will be huge demand from consumers wanting to own a Masters of Photography bottle.“The photography has exceeded my expectations and many of the images are truly breathtaking. Every single facet of the estate, the people and the whisky has been documented.” In fact bottles of The Macallan are already highly prized by collectors.Grier continues: “The 1926 vintage from The Macallan Fine & Rare Collection was bought for $70,000 by a private buyer in South Korea in 2005.“In the same year we launched an extremely rare 50 Years Old whisky in a Lalique crystal decanter and have subsequently seen examples of the decanter for sale at double its original price of £3,500.“Demand for The Macallan’s range of premium whiskies has increased by 87 per cent during the last five years, particularly in our overseas markets and we have increased our production at The Macallan distillery to keep pace with this.“We anticipate that The Masters of Photography bottle will generate interest among a wider consumer audience and will prove highly collectable both by whisky and art lovers.” The unique bottle comes presented in a black leather box, lined with velvet and containing an original Rankin Polaroid. Each bottle will have an individually printed label which matches the specific Polaroid contained within the box and a booklet of authenticity signed by Rankin. THE MUSE The face of the project is Finnish born super model Tuuli, and she looks supremely confident and at ease in the 60 per cent of the pictures she appears in.Whisky Magazine caught up with the 26 year old walking her dogs before the launch of the Russian leg of the exhibition.“I have loads of happy memories from the two visits we made there, the space is beautiful and the house is so lovely, especially the little tucked away music room.I will remember the hospitality forever as it was superb and we were made to feel quite at home.” Although not initially a malt drinker, it is heartening to know that one result of the project is a convert. “In the first night Ken walked me round the estate and I started learning about the production process, then later I was taught how to drink it.“I count myself extremely lucky. It was amazing to learn everything in such a place and be brought into whisky this way. As a girl it’s not really something you drink a lot of but now I can see myself drinking more – especially in a cocktail with ginger ale, after dinner or at Xmas in front of a roaring log fire. I will definitely be spreading the word.“To be honest I think I have been spoilt and will be sticking with Macallan in the various expressions for a while.“I did also try some of the Highland Park range and really enjoyed the 18 Years Old. It has such a distinct aftertaste, and it is impressive the way is makes your mouth go dry and then salivate after that.” With such exclusive access to parts of distillery many devotees of The Macallan would die to see, there were plenty of interesting moments – including climbing into one of the washbacks.“In terms of shots I really like, the horse shot is one of my favourites. I ride so it’s not my first time on a horse, and I have done some nude shots as well. You do feel vulnerable though. But getting the horse is just part of how the Macallan seems to work – a can do attitude.“I also really like the one in the cask. It was fun climbing in there and you could really smell the sherry. I also like the far away ones where I am standing on structures, outside the house where I am lying on the grass I like as well.“It was quite different from most of my jobs, although we do shoot on location a lot, but it does stand out in my 10 years of modelling as one of the most unusual locations so far.” The 26 year old started her career after finishing her A-Levels and decided to take a gap year and has not looked back since.One of her latest jobs was to shoot the cover for the paperback version of Bond novel Devil May Care: “It was fun. I went down the Thames with the Royal Marines.” So after it’s all over would she do it again?“If Ken asked me to do it again or at Highland Park, I would do it in a heart beat.” THE PHOTOGRAPHER How do you prepare and plan for such a massive project, the free run of a distillery with no-holesbarred access?Well it all starts with a health and safety lecture followed by a couple of reconnaissance missions to case the joint.Rankin picks up the story: “They are a 24 hours a day operation there so you cannot really go in and start making demands, we tried to be really minimal and discrete with our crew. We weren’t using a lot of equipment because we were shooting on Polaroid and using a lot of natural light, so it wasn’t that complicated in terms of what we were bringing to it.“I wanted to really capture the essence of the distillery so it was really important for us to get elements of it in there to provide a contrast with a lot of the photos with Tuuli.“Luckily one of the big washbacks was being refitted so fortunately we got the chance to go in it which was probably a once in the life time opportunity to go in there and get some shots.“They are really amazing structures anyway, it was quite refreshing to be able to do something in a location like that because it’s obviously very beautiful. I find all those kind of industrial things really fascinating.” Despite the shoot being fairly straightforward, there was a line that Rankin was conscious of not to cross.“There is the whole thing about sex and alcohol that you really have to be aware of. It was never my intention to make the photos really sexually provocative, they are meant to be sensual.“You have got to be very careful it is a very thin line between sensual and erotic, and that was something I did not want to do so it was very easy for me to stay on the right side of the line.“On the whole it was a very satisfying photo project, very hard work as it took such a massive amount of energy to create.“You want to make every image really special and different so it was a very steep mountain to climb in terms of the creativity aspect of it and having to do a different image.“Looking back we did a really good job.” For those readers who have a photographic head, Rankin used a Mamiya RZ67 with a Polaroid back for the shoot and a whole heap of Polaroid film.He says: “It is really the death of a way of working because I don’t use it any more. It’s sad to not use it but with the digital revolution things changed. Apart from being cheaper, it is very creative, you don’t have the worry of the film on your shoulders and you can really mess around with the light.“There is absolutely a link between the process of photography and distilling which is one of the reasons why I wanted to use Polaroid. Also a really good project because of heritage and romantic ideals it was good to do this with The Macallan.“Probably one of the last projects I will do with Polaroid, but it was a massive shoot. I like the idea that the photos were fragments of time captured and I feel that about the whisky, I like the parallel there.” As with his muse, Rankin took away some special memories from his time immersed in The Macallan estate.He explains: “So much rain and I love Scotland. But in terms of shooting it’s very difficult to shoot in those conditions as you have equipment that gets wet and using Polaroid that can become damaged.“But in terms of Tuuli being freezing on the banks of the Spey, these were pretty amazing moments. You are in such impressive countryside that is really enigmatic and she is absolutely freezing and yet trying to be so peaceful and calm. Then there were the midges of course. Also I thought when she got on the back of the horse nude was amazing. Lots of moments for me.“If asked to do it again I would but probably not the same way – I would try something unique again though.
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