How Ballantine’s married Chinese culture with Mayan beliefs using photographic talent

When marketers’ imagination is vivid, budgets are solid and passion for discovery is strong, content marketing pieces may turn out extraordinary, which is the case with the latest project by Pernod Ricard-owned whiskey brand Ballantine’s. No cliche’d images of successful guys in suits with pricey watches, no dancing-all-night glamourous ladies and other triviality associated with ‘elite alcohol’—the brand’s team has gone far beyond that with their communication platform «Stay True.»

Photo: the process of the underwater shooting
Photo: the process of the underwater shooting

Aimed to capture the true spirit of adventure, talent and curiosity, the collection of purely artistic Ballantine’s filming projects featuring British GIF-ITI’ artist INSA (‘Space GIF-ITI’), and Africa’s leading DJ and producer, Black Coffee, (‘Human Orchestra’) has got a masterful addition—a photographic project shot in the magic Cenote Angelita’s underwater river in Tulum, Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, by Benjamin Von Wong known as a ‘viral epic photographer and a digital pioneer.’

A natural visual phenomenon of a flowing underwater river can be experienced by divers in one of the giant sinkholes «Cenotes», a 60-meter deep «Angelita,» where at 30 meter depth a natural milky cloud-like layer of hydrogen sulfide separates fresh water and salt, creating a miraculous etherial setting—perfect for an underwater photo shoot.

Photo: Lance Lee Davis, the Ballantine's model and professional free diver
Photo: Lance Lee Davis, the Ballantine’s model and professional free diver

A 35-people team consisting of Ballantine’s brand managers, crew of production company Archer’s Mark, photographer Benjamin Von Wong, and free-diver Lance Lee Davis journeyed to Mexico in May. Their goal was to recreate a fading ancient traditional, the Chinese Cormorant Fisherman, that would reflect Wong’s Chinese heritage, Mayan beliefs of an ancient underworld, and the unique settings of the underwater river.

The process of shooting was difficult, especially for the model, an experienced free-diver and a Guinness World Record holder Lance Lee Davis, who had to hold his breath for several minutes at a time in a freezing, semi-toxic water.

Will Williamson, Director, Archer’s Mark comments on the main challenges of the shooting process:

«We chose to approach the ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ sequences as separate entities, each with their own crews. The ‘wet’ team was made up of cave-diving specialists and an experienced underwater film crew led by award-winning DOP Rob Franklin. The most dangerous element was building and lighting a set 100 feet below the surface because, even with the most high tech equipment, you’re limited by how long you can stay at that depth for.

What’s more, at 100 feet down it gets seriously dark, especially in this particular cenote with it’s unusual mix of fresh water, salt water and the Hydrogen Sulphide cloud. There’s virtually no daylight down there which meant building and lowering the rig out in the wild and powering it from portable generators in the jungle.»

The film can be viewed above, and the «behind-the-scene» story is available below.