10 : Paul's Honeybees
I step into the bee suit first with one leg, then the other, before pulling it up over my shoulders and firmly securing the zipper around the veil. I am now protected from the onslaught of bees which imminently awaits me on the far side of the yard. Except there is no onslaught. The bees don’t even bother to acknowledge us with a waggle as we approach the hive. Gently yet resolutely, Paul begins to pull the wood-and-beeswax frames out from their wooden boxes. Frames which are heavily laden with sweet delicious honey, locked in the combs.
From 2009 to 2012, a telltale sign that fall had arrived was a text from my friend Paul inviting me to help harvest honey. Paul kept bees on the quiet, homey parsonage where he had grown up just outside Edmonton. Year after year, a group of us would gather to contribute our labour in exchange for honey. Bee suits would be dusted off from their storage shelf, the centrifuge would be cleaned and assembled, and a dinner would be prepared for all. The community gathered, our tasks were to fetch the frames from their boxes, scrape the caps off the honeycombs, and spin the frames using the centrifuge until the honey came pouring out.
I have never actually been scared of bees. Sure, I would prefer that they don’t circle around my head during a picnic as much as the next tellurian, but overriding any potential fear has always been curiousity. During my first attempt to photograph this novel environment, a lone bee was caught between the veil and my camera, stinging my chin before I even had the chance to record a single frame. There is nothing a person can do at that point except walk away because once a bee stings you it releases an alarm pheromone that signals other bees to join the attack. Mindful of this experience, I was much more cautious when pulling out my camera the following year. My patience and tact were rewarded when I was successfully able to photograph the iconic white Langstroth hives with golden prairie wheat in the background. I also captured Paul carefully examining the health of his hive with bees swarming around his gloves. As you’re scrolling through these photos, try to mentally imagine the buzzing of a hive of bees harmonizing into a clear and steady hum, you might even feel like you’re there.
Location: near Mearns, AB
Date: August 21, 2012
Equipment: Canon 40d, Canon 35mm
On Monday I highlight the woodworking studio of Ashley West de Haas of Houtwerk Design.
This article about Environmental Portraiture was written by the Montreal-based product photographer Selena Phillips-Boyle.