I’ve been drinking Yuengling beer as long as I can remember. It’s hard not to know the iconic Yuengling brand when you grow up in Pennsylvania. In my hometown I can walk into any local bar and ask for a lager. There is no need to say anything else. It’s understood that I am asking for a Yuengling Lager. This spring I had the opportunity to drink Yuengling straight out of the cask. It’s the best Yuengling Lager I have ever had and probably ever will have. It was great on a multitude of levels, but the best thing about it was that I was drinking it with Yuengling’s lead brewer (John Callahan) moments before getting to photograph him in the old cellar. He’s a fascinating man and is truly a great American story. He started working at the brewery in 1980 cleaning tanks. Over the past 33 years he has seen Yuengling grow immensely while slowly working his way up the chain of command to become Lead Brewer of America’s oldest brewery.
This assignment came about in a very roundabout way. It proves that personal projects play an important role in landing new work. I had been working on a personal project exploring rural communities in Pennsylvania and decided I wanted to take the project to a different level of storytelling. I had the idea of focusing on iconic Pennsylvania companies and photographing their employees at work in a similar style to what I had been doing for the rest of my project. The first company that came to mind was Yuengling so I called them up and talked with their Marketing Manager, Jen Holtzman. She was interested in my ideas and thought she would be able to get me access to the old brewery. Long story short, we had difficulty scheduling and then my son was born. In the chaos of becoming a new dad I tabled the project and Yuengling dropped off my radar.
Fast forward 9 months to February, 2013. I got a call from Jen Holtzman saying she would like to talk with me about a photography project for 2014, Yuengling’s 185th Anniversary year. She had just gotten out of a meeting in which they were talking about photography direction for the 2014 materials. She remembered me and my project and looked me up. She and her creative team loved the work on my website and then went to my blog to see more. On my blog they read my post about a Dodge Ram Superbowl commercial. You may remember this post. They had been talking about the same commercial in their planning meeting as inspiration and were thrilled to see that I was already thinking some of the same things.
We scheduled an informal creative meeting at Yuengling’s headquarters in Pottsville, PA for the following week. What is great about this is that they brought me in on the ground level of creative discussion. This gave me the opportunity to give a lot of input into the creative direction of the photography for this project. I took all my information from the meeting and started working on a proposal with Craig Oppenheimer at Wonderful Machine. Craig worked with me to put together an initial estimate and then I put together a kick ass proposal and sent over to Jen. We had a few rounds of negotiating before we finally settled on the creative direction, total number of images and overall budget. I got the job and immediately went to buy a case of Yuengling Lager to celebrate.
I am incredibly grateful to the creative team at Yuengling for taking a chance in hiring me for this project. I don’t mean to say I’m risky. Quite the contrary. I knew I could deliver exactly what I said I would, but the risk for them was that they had never used photography like this in any of their marketing materials. This is uncharted territory for Yuengling and I am thrilled that even after 185 years of continuous operation they still know how to change things up a bit.
Stay tuned to learn more about the production in Part Two