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Work / Photography

Photographer Brian Finke traces the “birth of booze” with his series for National Geographic

Photographer Brian Finke has worked with National Geographic on his first cover story for the magazine. Having worked with Todd James, a photo editor for the publication, on past assignments, the pair had “built an understanding” of the type of projects that fit Brian’s punchy style and interests. “When [Todd] reached out to discuss working together on The Birth of Booze we both thought it would be a great follow up to the first story I shot for National Geographic around the subject of meat explains Brian.

The brief was to unravel the origins of alcohol and led to the photographer travelling for four months around Peru, Germany, the Republic of Georgia, China and the USA. In the mag, the story explores the idea of how alcohol has been a “prime move of human culture” which has fuelled “the development of arts, language and religion” since its beginnings 9,000 years ago.

“For about three weeks, Todd and I were in constant contact discussing all of the background research that he compiled and then we began to discuss areas of how to build out the story photographically,” Brian says. “Then together we started to co-ordinate the travel and logistical needs involved in sending me out on the road.”

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Brian Finke: The Birth of Booze

Brian travelled to working communities where alcohol production was still an integral part of life, and he enjoyed witnessing the “ancient processes involved in alcohol production that are still in existence today”. “Overall it was visually stunning but I also came home with an incredible understanding and respect for what it takes to produce alcohol on every level, from large scale production to small communal batches,” explains Brian. “I was looking to capture the real-life moments in each community, so I could give National Geographic’s readers an understanding of the role of alcohol throughout history.”

The social aspect of alcohol is a key part of the project, and Brian has captured numerous groups of people and neighbourhoods drinking together glugging drinks and having fun, and there’s a universal camaraderie throughout the series. “What I hoped to have illustrated is the cultural significance around alcohol consumption and production all over the world,” says Brian. “Each community we visited had such a unique style and vibe, but there was always such a wonderful community of people that were involved in its creation and with each new country I visited, I really began to appreciate that aspect of the story.” 

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Brian Finke: The Birth of Booze