Hey guys, Andy here. I was recently asked by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), a membership organisation which bottles and sells single cask, single malt whisky, to take the portrait of a long-standing member for an editorial profile. This editorial portrait was to be taken at the home of the member, Peter Hughes, north of London with additional images of his collection of whiskies and tasting notes for which he has become known; a member of over 30 years, Peter has 12 volumes of detailed tasting notes, covering almost 1,500 Society whiskies.
For one on one portrait sessions, as a matter of course, I request a minimum of two hours and I start every session with a conversation to build a rapport with the person. In this instance, in addition to establishing a relationship with Peter, it was also important for me to learn and find out about his history and connection with the SMWS. This meant learning about his interactions with the Society and in particular his note taking. Over the course of 30 years these had evolved not only physically from Society ledgers (sadly no longer available) and notebooks but also in regards to his palette and descriptions. As someone fond of a wee dram or two it was fascinating to learn Peter’s tasting process and seeing how this passion had been sharpened with age and experience, albeit even if Peter himself still calls himself an amateur. Peter’s career in the Metropolitan Police and his interest in the First World War, he used to lead battlefield tours and is a specialist and author on the war graves of Arras, were additional touch points in our conversation.
Conversation also gives me time to assess space and location in regards to the main event of photography. Whilst I am familiar with entering a new location and having to instantly assess it’s suitability for photography and how to achieve it, conversation gives me breathing space to consider the pros and cons without having to come to a snap decision. Peter’s home had limited natural light and whilst we talked my heart was in my mouth as the weather alternated between bright sunshine and heavy rain. In total we talked for three hours before starting the portraiture.
When it came time for the portrait I chose to situate Peter on the path outside his house. While this meant removing physically removing him from his bottles and notes I decided to take advantage in a break in the weather and use natural light. I was also asked by Peter to be considerate of the setting and not include any notable details in order to keep his address private. Following our conversation he knew I understood his love for whisky, with his passion being equal to mine in regards to photography, which was broadened by reflections on and experience in service; we had invested three hours placing him in a suitable mental space (*for the sake or transparency we forgot the dram in the first series of shots and had to reshoot after taking the images of his bottles and notes).
The location and setting of this editorial portrait was taken as a result of the situational factors involved. Had the rain continued to fall, I would have had to overcome the challenges of taking Peter’s portrait inside or devise a third course of action. As it was my first frame of Peter (with dram) was taken at 14:30:57 and I finished 45 frames later at 14:32:31, a total of 1 minute and 34 seconds.
Thank you very much to Peter Hughes for his time and to SMWS for the opportunity. Peter’s member profile can be found here.