Photographer/filmmaker Josh Goleman was commissioned by award winning agency Preacher to shoot a library of images plus a short film for Kilbeggan Distilling Co. The artist and crew traveled to the tiny village of Kilbeggan, Ireland to capture the very special process of making their distinctive whiskey. The images and film tell the story of the close-knit family of employees that help keep this 200 year old distillery successful.
Our summer intern, Nathalie Naor, caught up with Josh to ask a few questions about his experience:
Nathalie Naor: Had you ever been to Ireland before?
Josh Goleman: Yeah it was my first time in Ireland, but my third time working with Preacher. Preacher had arranged for a team to go into the town of Kilbeggan and scout it out, meet all the people, and get a sense of the story. Once we had a game plan prepared, the whole crew went down to meet all the distillery workers. The town was so small, it was only about three blocks.
I actually have a pretty funny story about my experience going through immigration at the airport. The man working there looked at me very sternly, saying, “so it’s your first time in Ireland? You’re shooting photos for Kilbeggan?” and I got a bit nervous because this guy was giving me a tough time, but then he looked at me and said… “Don’t drink too much!” And I actually didn’t taste the Kilbeggan whiskey until the very last day of the shoot. I wanted to experience the whole shoot clearly and keep the whiskey special till it was over. I was relieved to find out it was a whiskey I’d actually drink!
NN: What were the biggest challenges you faced when doing this shoot? How cooperative were the people working in the distillery with you photographing them? Which photo turned out to be your favorite?
JG: Unfortunately, it rained everyday we were there which, for obvious reasons, made it tricky to shoot. But it turned out to be a good thing because we ended up getting my favorite shot of the whole shoot – the photo of all the workers looking at the camera. I asked one of the workers if there was any place indoors that was big enough for all of us to shoot in. I noticed this building a little bit in the distance from the distillery and asked what it was. The worker replied, “that’s just like a storage area.” So we go over there, they open up this huge sliding door, and we see this epic, raw space from the 1700s, with walls that have a wonderful texture that’s impossible to find in the US. It had some junk in it like random bins and supplies, so we cleared it all out. Everyone agreed the shot had to be there. I asked if we could get some barrels in the storage area for the shoot, and William, the caretaker of the group, pulled out some old Kilbeggan cases that were over 100 years old. We stacked the cases to get different heights for everyone in the photo.
We really tried to make the distillery workers as comfortable as possible because many of them were not really used to being photographed like that. I spent a lot of time posing them and finding what worked for them. To get everyone to look up at the shot perfectly, I had everyone look down to the ground, and then, on the count of three, look up at the camera. If you look closely at the group photo, you can kind of see everyone’s head in motion as they look up from the ground. While we were editing, some of the guys wanted to edit out the window in the background, but I was just like “leave the window alone!”
Regarding what the distillery workers were like, they were all really kind people, especially under the influence of the “sweet nectar” in Kilbeggan! We went to pubs after the shoots and had a lot of laughs, even if it was hard for me to understand their accents as the night went on.
NN: The distillery is such a central part of the town’s history. Could you tell me a bit about what you learned from speaking to people closely tied to Kilbeggan’s history? Did you get a chance to speak to the town historian Kitty Flynn about her experience in Kilbeggan?
JG: Yeah, we met pretty much everyone in the town because it’s pretty small. We met anyone directly associated with the distillery. I definitely got to talk to Kitty. I’ll admit that a lot of the Irish history went over my head, but one story in particular really stuck with me. Frank Keoghan and his brother came to hang out during the shoot, and told the story of their father, who was working at the distillery in 1953 when it went out of business and they had to shut it down. On the last day, he was responsible for turning off the water wheel, which is really a staple of Kilbeggan. It’s one of the first things to catch your eye when you go through the town. When the distillery shut down, it was really sad for everyone. Not only did the distillery support the town, but the town also supported the distillery. It was such a central part of their lives. They had to watch the distillery get overgrown. Ultimately, the factory was repurchased and brought back to life. When it reopened, Frank and his brother were actually asked to come turn the wheel back on to follow their father turning it off in 1953. People cared so much about the wheel that even when the wood on the wheel was rotted off, many people reached out and donated new wood to fix it.
NN: What made you decide to take on this project? What most excited you about all of it?
JG: For me, getting to travel and photograph people in an authentic setting and tell their story – it’s pretty much all the things that I love mixed together. I also enjoyed getting to shoot and direct the commercial for it. I feel so fortunate to be able to do stuff like this and have people pay me to do it. Everything felt pretty natural and fun and it was clear that I was the right person to shoot it. It also gave me confidence that an agency will hire a person that is doing something they really love, which definitely affects the whole crew. When you’re working with people who really love what they’re doing, the shoot becomes a lot more than just a shot list. We had a lot more freedom to work with the story.
NN: What was the most memorable part of the whole trip?
JG: The Kilbeggan football team, the Shamrocks, play this game that’s like a mixture of rugby meets soccer meets football meets basketball. I thought for sure I would plummet right into that wet Irish grass. It was the whole Preacher crew versus the Kilbeggan workers, and I got to shoot so many cool portraits of them as a team. Everyone was having so much fun. The clients were all there, and even the photographers were all in on it. I just grabbed the camera and chased the players around. It was a lot fun and we had lots of laughs.