The plight of the honey bee has become a hot topic in recent times. Its struggle for survival is regarded as both a comment on the precarious state of the environment in general, and a serious environmental concern in itself. Bees are widely regarded as essential to pollination, and therefore procreation.

I wanted my work with the beekeepers to raise questions not just about the environment, but about service and duty, the interconnected roles of society and the individual. To this end, I shot a seres of portraits, accompanied by strategic pieces of information.

The main formal portraits were shot on 6x7cm film and a shortlist of twelve printed at close to life size. The resulting images are powerful, and in some cases disconcerting.

I wanted there to be an implicit military feel to the pictures, and a thoughtfulness. But other than that I gave no guidance to the sitters. My intention was that the inner life of the beekeeper should show through.

Beneath each portrait are a few words from the beekeeper; their response to the question: “What does the future hold?”, which varies from the pragmatic to the philosophical.

A second portrait was produced that shows a snapshot of him or her relaxing at home.

The contrast between the two images can be striking. Stripped of their armour and sense of duty the beekeepers appear less powerful, but regain their individuality.

It is all about the whole being more than the sum of its parts. The society is more powerful than the person.

This concept taps into an ongoing theme in my work. My first solo exhibition, “Drip Yellow Strip” in 2006, included a set of photographic prints showing road markings – specifically double yellow lines – physically blocking off other visual symbols of the various weaknesses craved by individuals but proscribed by modern society...drugs, sex, junk food.

In other work, notably the “Street B” project, I photographed anonymous human “drones”, walking between giant, faceless office blocks, captured in shafts of sunlight or penned in by deep shadows.

The idea was that the society we built reduced individuals to tiny automata, trapped in a complex structure with fixed routes and regulations that are so ingrained they are almost impossible to mentally break free from.

Looking back at 'Street B' today, I realise the city I shot was actually a hive, with its workers and queen. This new work carries the baggage of all the earlier projects, but it is attempting to say something new.

I hope that – with some caveats – it celebrates working together for the common good, rather than bemoaning the subjugation of individual need. As I get older I think I start to see that some things are more important than our own selfish desires.

If this world is going to survive then we might need to start collectively thinking of our lives as ones of service.

Beekeeper: to Serve the Queen has been made possible with the support of the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the British Beekeepers Association, Northern Bee Books, Sherriff, and E.H. Thorne (Beehives) Limited.

Now view the portraits...

About the Project