Back in August, I had the pleasure of hosting a photoshoot at my house for a publication called Primary Paper, the theme being “Environment”. I had warned the photographer, Morgan Hill-Murphy that I had colonies dotted around in a natural setting rather than gangs of hives in rows, and that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to open the hives for classic beekeeper-and-bee-covered-frame shots, although I could offer a range of friendly poultry by way of compensation…
The model Aasmäe, stylist Kat, make-up artist Emilie, photographer Morgan and producer Sam arrived at lunchtime and once important introductions had been made with Scruff the dog and Sausage the cat, we headed off to the apiary to see where to start. I have done a few shoots myself in a studio, and I was part of the Tales from the Kitchen Table ad campaign for Inglis Hall with the chooks and bees, but this was a bit different. The clothes modelled were from sustainable/ethical designers, as this was the emphasis of the whole shoot; I modelled a jacket from Phoebe English over my beesuit!
Thankfully the weather was good – always a challenge here in the UK, but at least the amount of rain we’d had meant the foliage was looking green and lush rather than insipid, tired, and slightly crisp. I had winterised most of my hives but it was mild enough to take the lids off, and as I was feeding back crushed comb, there were plenty of bees milling about licking clean the tubs of honey.
Morgan had seen my photo of a gloved hand coated in bees when I was collecting a swarm, and wanted to recreate this, so I smeared some honey on to the gauntlet Kat was wearing, and sat her (in a beesuit!) in front of a hive. There are some great photos from this, and we managed to keep limelight-stealing wasps mostly at bay, although I was tickled to see that the one flying insect in the photo is in fact, one of our Vespula vulgaris friends! I do accept that you would have to be an entomologist or a beekeeper to spot that. Or indeed care…
The chickens also had their moment of fame. I have some Wyandotte crosses, one of whom has the traditional pencilling on her feathers which makes her a very striking hen, even if she is extremely bossy. Aasmae took to poultry handling like a duck to water, if you’ll pardon the pun, and we were soon swapping hens to match outfits, which is probably not something that happens particularly frequently on fashion shoots but I stand to be corrected.
It was a lot of fun having everyone at mine, and the dog and cat weren’t too disruptive! Morgan was the only one who got stung so that too was a relief!
Last night was the launch of the third edition of Primary Paper, so I went with my photography friend Andy to the Photo Book Cafe to pick up a copy. It’s a super-cool venue – I must go back.
I love this write-up from Kat, which appears at the end of The Apiarist section:
Situated in rural East Sussex, Wayward Bee is owned and operated by sustainable beekeeper Jennifer Moore. Jennifer’s method of beekeeping can best be described as sympathetic and bee-centric, guided by the natural biology of the honeybee to minimise stress and intrusion on the colonies. Upon entering her garden, fruit trees and flowers grow unrestricted, tangling around one another to provide an abundance of pollen and nectar to both wild bees and her own. Jennifer descries how thoughtful management, such as planting native flowering plants and keeping only a small number of hives, can help minimise the impact on wild bees and the surrounding ecosystem. Six hives are interspersed through the field, each humming with the warmth of over 50,000 bees. Jennifer collects about a third of what conventional beekeepers would harvest, this ensures her bees are never fed sugar syrups or other unnatural honey substitutes. The resulting batches of raw honey are rich with active enzymes and pollen, each with a unique flavour of the season.Katrina Silva for Primary Paper Issue 3
Thank you to all involved – it was wonderful to have the opportunity to showcase sustainable beekeeping in such a beautifully designed and curated way. Sometimes the science and borderline agricultural nature of what I do means the beauty and poetry of working with nature, and such genuinely fascinating animals as bees and – yes – chickens, is lost. This is coupled with a confusion of messages about bees in general, so to have another narrative and be able to put my beekeeping in front of a totally different audience and from a completely new angle is a real privilege. We, as humans, love a story and novelty, and hearing the same agenda over and over, however valid, means we stagnate and feel uninspired. Art has such an important part to play in how we communicate and therefore tackle the challenges, and I am really pleased to have this fabulous tangible record of that special day in August.