Back in September when we visited The Macallan at their home in the Scottish Highlands we were given a sneak preview of both the liquid and the imagery from the latest in their Masters of Photography series. While the 20-year-old whisky instantly became our new favorite for the way its buttery smooth texture offsets its rich and complex flavor, the imagery Albert Watson created to celebrate it offers a beautiful and educational perspective on what makes Scotch whisky so special. Where Rankin (the last Scottish photographer to create a series for The Macallan) used the Easter Elchies estate as a background for nude portraiture, Watson chose to tell the story of the complex journey Oak wood makes from the forest to the Estate, picking up the varied characteristics through Spain and Scotland that eventually define the whisky.
In anticipation of Thursday's NYC stop of the one-night-only series of gallery exhibitions of Watson's series, I sat down with the famed photographer to hear more about the project from his perspective.
You're very highly regarded as a fashion photographer, I'm wondering if you consider yourself one.
I certainly have been a fashion photographer and I still do fashion. But I've also done a vast amount of portraiture and movie posters. I've done over the years a lot of landscape work and also a huge amount of still life work. So I've done more fashion than anything else, but in the end I'm really a photographer who will take fashion photographs. I'm really a photographer in the broad sense of the word.
There's a very simple way to look at all of the work that I do because I was trained as a graphic designer for four years at university and then did three years of post-graduate at film school. And that is written all over the work. It's either one of three things: graphic design, filmmaking or a mixture of the two.
Which photograph was chosen for the label of this edition?
It is the one of the barrel in the shaft of light, which was the first one we did. Due to the logistics, we shot the cooperage first and I went in to the saw mill and there was a big room. The place was very dusty and smokey and humid so this was the perfect condition for a shaft of light to come through. I walked into the room and there was this shaft of light. I turned to Ken Grier, the Creative Director, and said there's a shot there, so we put a barrel in it. It was an important moment because it laid a standard for the rest of the shoot—a lot of times when working on a photographic project you want to get the best shots first because if you start low and improve you end up wanting to reshoot the early shots.
Where did the idea for the storyline come from?
That came from me. What came from them was that they wanted to do Spain and Scotland. But to tie it all together we had to put a human face on it and to do it as a journey that a young couple takes from a sustainable forest in the North of Spain to the barrels being made in the South of Spain and filled with Sherry there. Then they go from there to Scotland to the distillery where the whisky is put in them. I thought people should discover a forest, a saw mill, the cooperage, the barrels, and through that discover Scotland and ultimately the distillery. Doing that through this couple put a face on it.
The series of photographs you created for The Macallan combine the various facets of photography you described to create a very specific narrative. Was this project different from others you've done for that reason?
Once inside the project there wasn't anything I might do over a six month period for a variety of people—I might be employed to do both landscape work and fashion work. So the Macallan thing was just concentrating it in to a very short period of time. The actual shooting time for the project was eight days, which is not a lot of time when you're doing South of Spain, North of Spain, Central Scotland and West Coast of Scotland.
What do you think of the whisky?
I don't drink at all. It's unusual for someone from Scotland not to drink.
The limited-edition of 1,000 bottles of The Macallan Sherry Oak 20 years old has the specially-commissioned label by Watson and each bottle includes a set of 10 portfolio prints, $1000 from select retailers.