It’s a fitting finale for Ken Grier, The Macallan’s creative director and overseer of the image projected by the Speyside whisky distillery – whose special releases and artistic collaborative editions are sought-after worldwide – that his retirement, after more than two decades, coincides with the unveiling of the whisky’s seventh and, to date most ambitious, Masters of Photography project. Grier was in Hong Kong at the end of August to present this seventh edition, which celebrates the opening of the distillery’s new, state-of-the art facility.
The Macallan Masters of Photography series was conceived to pair a very limited-edition single malt, combining some of the whisky-maker’s rarest casks, with a specially commissioned suite of photographic works. Previous Masters projects have involved some of the biggest names to wield a lens – the likes of Annie Leibovitz, Rankin and Mario Testino – each working alone. This time, however, six were involved.
“We saw the opening of the new distillery as the most important thing we’ve ever done,” says Grier, the driving force behind the series, “so it seemed only logical to have the project concentrating on this. I saw a book on a retrospective of Magnum Photos [the international photographic collective] years ago, which always stuck in my mind. The idea was that it would be interesting to get multiple points of view of the new distillery from the perspective of different photographers.
“Six seemed a good variety, and at The Macallan we also have our ‘six pillars’ [brand principles]. So we sat down and looked through the roster of great Magnum photographers, and after that we whittled the number down to six.
“We settled on Steve McCurry, one of the world’s top 10 photographers, particularly known for his shot of the Afghan girl who was on the cover of National Geographic [magazine] – he’s worked for them for about 30 years. We thought he’d be able to capture people in the distillery, in situ. Martin Parr is always curious, and finds quirks, personalities and unexpected angles – also he uses ring flash, which offers a very high colour.
“We’d seen documentary photographer Mark Power take great architectural shots in the book on the Millennium Dome [Superstructure]; he takes highly detailed, precise, almost forensic photos. We liked the idea of using Alec Soth because his photos are very anaemic and bleak, he often photographs the fringes of society, which is a contrast – quite a Twin Peaks vibe.
“Paolo Pellegrin is a tremendous black-and-white conflict photographer – he shot the Arab Spring and the Iraq War. He brought a sense of context, adding drama – mostly in panoramic format. Finally, we chose Gueorgui Pinkhassov, a Russian photographer and great Instagrammer, who specialises in abstraction, and light and shadow.”
Along with the images – the archive-style box collection includes a signed 11-by-14-inch print from each of the six photographers, plus a special-edition book of images by all the Magnum participants – the edition’s unique whisky comes in a specially engraved bottle. Whisky Maker Sarah Burgess selected single malt from eight rare casks, on the basis that they reflected characteristics from the photographers’ styles as well as that of the signature nose and palate of the whisky.
The result: a 43.7-percent proof malt of deep amber hue, with light hints of peat, mellow oak, spiced ginger, mandarin orange and candied apple on the nose, and a palate of dried fruit, butterscotch and honeyed nut. Its lengthy finish ends with earthy sweetness. All in all, it’s a collectors’ package Grier looks justifiably proud of, as he leaves The Macallan.
Only 2,000 sets of this series are available worldwide, priced at HK$26,460 each.