One Thousand Angry Bees
Over drinks at Christmas, I invite myself to photograph Jon's beekeeping operation in Blanchisseuse. "Call me in April" he said. "Things should be interesting by then”.
The bees are angry; very angry. Somehow the routine brush cutting exercise planned for this morning has gone awry. The buzzing of the bees; a simple expression we learn in childhood reading from our Student’s Companion. The term seems trivial enough, even soothing. But this is not the case. The sound of bees swarming is one of savage intent, their drone sounding mechanical, tinny even, not of tiny wings, but of vibrating metal. Instinctively your body reacts, your muscles tense and your breathing quickens. You know something bad is about to happen. It is a warning heard too late for an unprotected victim.
And if their buzz was the bark, their relentless attack is the bite. I recall Jon mentioning on the drive up that all bees in Trinidad are of the Africanized variety. In kamikaze fashion wave after wave, they crash into my thin mesh visor. I could feel them against the thick cotton of my overalls on my leg and along my arms, each insect registering a distinct bump as it collides at speed into my stiff body.
I’m in a full beekeepers suit and praying I have zipped it all up correctly. It’s an odd conversation that takes place in your head as you deny your flight or fight instinct. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and it is impossible to fight a swarm of bees. I know logically my best and safest course of action is to stand still and ride it out. I foolishly thought if I move away slowly they would call off the attack. But it doesn't work like that. They just keep attacking. When I think I see a bee inside my helmet I have to use every ounce of resolve to resist panic. But it’s nothing. Imagination and fear are a dangerous combination.
Operating a camera in full beekeeper’s gear is, to say the least, not ideal. I cannot feel the shutter button, my gloves stiff and gummy from several seasons’ worth of honey and beeswax. The mesh helmet that saves me from the business end of the bees also prevents me from looking through my viewfinder. Even when I switch to “live view” everything appears as if I’m looking through a greasy window. And the attack ensues. But I know I have to make images. So I rely on muscle memory to operate the camera. I know my lens and its field of view and am able to compose and shoot “from the hip”. I set to burst mode and select an f-stop that will be forgiving. In the midst of all of this, I begin hearing Lord Kitchener’s “The Bee’s Melody” playing in my head. I smile and start shooting.
Be sure to check out Jon's amazing bee and beeswax products @bee_pure_tt