This project started as an assignment during a year-long course with photographer Kirsten Lewis. To get us thinking about what we might want to undertake for these personal projects, she had us work through brain-storming exercises. For me, what emerged from these was a strong interest in nature, especially so because it is where I tend to encounter the magic and mystery that I believe to exist in this world. Other themes that emerged for me included geometry, pattern, and play.
I sat with all this for a few weeks when the idea of bee keeping popped into my head. There is a house down the road from me that keeps bees and, since I live in a very traditional suburban neighborhood, this had always intrigued me. I also recalled following a local honey producer on Facebook; I followed the feed not just because it was local but because it was full of personality and passion for social justice. I thought that photographing this small scale company would be more interesting than just a local individual. Via messenger I contacted the company, explaining my interest in bee keeping in part as follows:
“What I think interests me most about bee keeping is how small bits of quiet good can lead to bigger good, and how humans and animals can, at times, work together and bring out the best in each other. As well, hives are gorgeous and honey is delicious and bees are fascinating. “
The owner and sole operator of the Aurora Bee Company, Joel, responded positively and off the project went!
The honey season kicked off in March, when Joel cleared a new space for the hive boxes on the grounds of Sol Gardens, and wrapped up with the last harvest of honey in October. Sol Gardens is a small-scale organic farm in Yorkville, Illinois, run by Joel’s good friend Kris. I documented a lot of the farm during this time as well, as I found it fascinating to watch the season process in multiple realms.
Having wrapped up all the shooting for the season I’m now in the process of reflecting upon what this whole process has meant to me, and how I will present this project both to my mentor as well as to the public. While it is certainly a documented season of small-scale honey production, it is also more than that. When I think about what I want to share with an audience I think about this farmland and this season that has passed, and all that went on there. I think about people working in the rhythm of the seasons, their livelihood depending on things like late spring snowfalls, droughts and floods, extremes of heat, powerful storms: all things outside of their control. These people work within a level of connection to the world around them that is no longer the norm in the suburbs of the USA. In a land of cubicles and parking lots and buildings, this life offers a return to connection to the larger world in which we reside.
I think about this space too as a place where so many worlds come together - man, animal, and plant - each working with the other to produce food, sustenance, livelihood…with the exchange of pollen at the epicenter of it all.
A Personal Reflection on this project:
I got through 2018 with a great deal of HOPE. And not just the Aurora Bee Company's aptly named 2018 batch of autumn honey, although I scored a lot of that goodness, too. It came in spades when I started to mute my newsfeed, get out of my own head, and get out into my community.
Do you know what I found? Joel Frieders. and his company. and his bees. and then I met his amazing and loving family. And friends of his, friends who grow local organic food, who cook amazing food at their restaurants, who brew coffee for those that feel down and alone - friends that work at the local level of government to implement change, friends that make music and art, friends who teach about health and wellness and organize community events that bring people together... and the friends and families of these remarkable friends too...and on and on.
Remember the first time you were taught about fractals? You see this image that looks random and abstract, but when you start to zoom in this incredible beauty and magic and order suddenly appears and then it happens again. and again. and again. each unseen world emerges anew seemingly out of nowhere - but of course it didn't - because the whole of the structure is built entirely upon its own repetition.
This year I had the privilege of finding a fractal of good in a time of persistent disorientation.
By zooming in, away from the random and chaotic national level, in towards my own local level, I've been fortunate enough to discover some really good honey, some really good people, tens of thousands of beautiful and mysterious little insects, and one amazing goodness fractal. If I can, as a photographer, hold a mirror to that for others to see, and perhaps as well reflect this back to those within it, then I have done something that I feel really good about. Thanks to Joel, for setting up the neon welcome sign at the fractal opening, and for being my friend.