Sunday, November 25, 2007

Wine and Photography - some thoughts

Andrew Barrow from Spittoon is, as I have said before, a great photographer of wine 'occasions', particularly setting them off against food matches. Check out his photos here. He also pointed me to a friend's photos here.

He and I have had a brief conversation about this some time ago, and I thought I would share my issues with this subject here in case others have any suggestions.

If you ask someone for a "wine" photo, you will get:

- a bottle shot, with or without props
- a vineyard shot
- a glass of wine (funny angle not required); swirling or dripping extra
- a smiling couple/group at a table with glasses raised

However well executed these shots are (and some are better than others), they have been done before by someone else. What is happening in 2007 with wine that we want to communicate? Is there nothing different today than there was 2, 10, 20, 50 years ago? I think there is, and we need to think about the visual language of how we get this across.

Let me give a comparative example culled from about 45 seconds searching on

If wine were ... snowboarding, then this is the photo we are using (This photo by Anh Quan). There is nothing wrong with it. It shows boards, the design alternatives and the set up is fine.

However, snowboaring enthusiasts might use this type of shot (Photo by T A K K):

Relevant, active, engaging, atmospheric, fun, modern, youthful, ... good!

You might even go so far as saying that if you removed the board from the photo, there are still enough clues for the target market to say "Snowboard!" (or whatever a cool snowboarder actually says).

This is exactly what the perfume business and soft drinks markets already do. Perfumes are all about beautiful people being terribly attractive.

Soft drinks are the same. A can is boring, but Wayne Rooney draining a can after a tough game whilst condensation drips from the can or bottle is not. Of course we cannot, by law, do many of these same things for wine at least in the EU, but the concepts are there.

So, if snowboarding or perfumes were wine, what photos should we be taking to make it relevant, active ... and all those other nice words up there?

Now, Chateau Petrogasm has attempted to move in this area, although not directly. Their concept is to link a photo (or an image more generally) with a tasting note. This is radical, and fun, but it is about the taste of the wine. I am still thinking a little more broadly about how photography might capture the essence of a wine brand.

Tom Wark at Fermentation also mentioned a similar issue recently, although relating to the graphics for the entire catalogue and not about a single wine or brand.

I believe that this area is ideal fodder for more creative bloggers who have a decent artistic streak and mastery of a camera.

Question: How would you 'capture' a wine brand WITHOUT showing a bottle, a glass, winery or vineyard? Has it been done? Any suggestions for specific brands (polite only please!)?

And then (you knew it was coming), how might we communicate the Wine Conversation and therefore the role of wine in our culture(s) in general using photography (bottles and glasses allowed this time)?


Wulf said...

My first thought is that the vocabulary of wine tasting provides plenty of hooks to create imagery that has nothing to do with glasses and bottles but (given the right context) will evoke the experience of a particular wine.

For example, the chianti I was drinking last week was, at least in my words, dry and brambly but not unpleasant. If I could get a shot of a blackberry laden bramble on a hot day, that might create the requisite link.

Robert McIntosh said...

thanks Wulf - that would be great. That kind of shot would be right up Chateau Petrogasm's street (have you checked out their site despite the dodgy name?)

The issue would be to use photography to discuss 'wine' in general, or a brand in particular, without specifically talking about the taste. What we are looking for is a shot that describes the 'experience' of wine, and ideally one that can be attributed in some way to a particular wine.

I think I will need to blog about this in more detail to ge my own thoughts straight. Until you write it down and discuss it, it all seems so simple ....


Andrew said...

i'm mulling over this... post due sometime by way of a response.

Robert McIntosh said...

thought you might - I look forward to it

I will now start work on "some further thoughts", specifically about what emotions and concepts we associate with wine, and how these might be communicated visually.

i.e. perfume is 'consumed' to be sexy, so photos for perfume require "sexy" images (or at least they have created this link)

wine isn't about "sexy" (per se), so we must think about our own message

Wulf said...

I am not sure perfume ads are a good marker. If I see an ad that makes absolutely no sense, the chances are that it was a perfume ad.

Back to wine though, how about the concept of wine as a drink that complements other things, whether food or friendship? You could illustrate that with well established culinary pairings, such as fish and chips or peaches and cream.

(ps. CP is an interesting site - a novel approach)

Andrew said...

continuing the conversation

some thoughts of my own

Alastair said...

Hmmm... in the same way that Cadbury's uses a chilled out Gorilla on the drums to express the feeling assoicated with eating Dairy Milk?
Perhaps we should be posting video clips, not just photos eh?

thepassionatecook said...

hello, i've been looking for your email address everywhere... so trying a comment instead: we are organising this year's menu for hope for the uk - if you'd like to participate, please get in touch and i will send you more information! (alternatively, find more info on my blog!)
it would be great if you could participate!

Anonymous said...

To offer my thoughts on posting about wine without grapes, glasses, barrels and bottles, I would suggest that it can be done. In photography there are rules to be followed and broken. You must decide what your blog’s rules are and follow them. One rule may be that the photo must have something to do with the subject. If I’m writing about pairing wine and lobster, focus on the lobster motif. Cut loose the idea and see where it takes you. We have lobster pots, boats, coast line, lobster pounds, wait staff, lobsters, food preparation, presentation…cut yourself loose from the rules you’ve been following!

Shipping Wine may be a loose interpretation of posting about wine without said wine objects. We wanted to talk about wine shipping, but it may as well have been about Mad Dogs and Englishmen as a wine with beef. You got Colorado ranches, cowboys, searing meet and…well you get it.

I think that Spittoon has some of the best wine photography that I’ve found on a blog. I respect what Chateau Petrogasm is trying to do. It’s a great concept. However tasting notes are subjective and the photos selected to represent the tasting notes are a further abstraction. This is art and I get to interpret his art as I see fit, adding another layer of abstraction. Sophia may represent a nice sexy timeless beauty or a wine my father would have liked. Hard to say.

What I like about Spittoon is that the photos invoke an emotional response. I can get his thoughts. Once again, I’m participating. Spittoon shows technical excellence and presents wine. It looks like you want to go in another direction than Spitoon’s work will take you. Try my advice from above and see if that opens doors for you.