Tuesday, 20 November 2012

#14 Brood Chamber

When we shot the last Futurescope 'Skep Head' we had been thinking more about the image of the traditional beehive or skep woven from coils of straw and the way in which when Paton's and Baldwin's owned this site they had used this image (in much the same way as the Co-operative has) as a symbol and emblem of industry as if the hive itself were by metaphorical extension a factory or even a society in which the hierarchies of role and function were imposed. I have blogged about this before so I won't do it again. It was also largely about the disconnection between the handmade and agricultural and the machined and designed environment in which people work at Lingfield Point.
As well as the skep 'helmet' we used in this picture we also commissioned two skeps to resemble as closely as possible the shape and form of the Paton's & Baldwin's logo. In an unstructured hive like this the bees make honeycomb that hangs in layers from the top where the queen sits and which eventually fills the skep. Because the skep was circular we had the idea that if bees made honey in it we might use the upturned skep in Futurescope. One thing was clear we wanted this to be a simple picture: Just basically of bees.

We discussed the project with Colin who keeps the bees at Lingfield Point and he agreed to try keeping the skep hive alongside the traditional box hives. Colin who knew very little about skeps did some research into it and found this fantastic film “Heathland Beekeeping”. The first in the series can be seen here: 

At his suggestion I went one day and built it a 'beebole' to sit in to shelter it from the weather and I persuaded David Chubb who made the skeps to be our advisor. We expected to be able to catch a swarm in April/May. As a back up I set up a second skep in Cumbria with local beekeeper and friend Neil Cruickshank. In both cases they managed to get bees in but did not manage to persuade them to stay and then it started raining, in fact, it rained from April to September in what must be possibly the wettest summer I remember. This is bad news for bees, the straw got soggy, the skep was retrieved and dried out and the experiment was not a success. Stand by - we are hoping to give it another go next year.

David Chubb Beekeper/Skepmaker

As we came towards the shoot for the last in Futurescope series this plan had come unstuck and so I spoke to Colin instead about photographing the existing bees and their hives. 

We got suited and booted and lifted the lid to look inside. 

With Colin’s help I began to look at the interior structure of the existing hives and I was struck by the way in which it closely resembled the buildings of Lingfield Point itself. Each chamber is like a filing cabinet loaded with suspension files, each file or frame is prepared with a wax base upon which the honeycomb can be built and the weight can be staggering. From below the hive looks a little bit like the fly tower of a traditional theatre. From above it looks a little bit like the floor of a nuclear reactor. I was struck by the model scale of this architecture.

In fact all the hives are in quite good health largely because Colin has been feeding glucose directly to the bees, supplementing the pollen upon which they would otherwise have fed. The surplus honey has been harvested and in preparation for winter only the brood chamber itself remained installed. So this then is the honey which is the bees' and the bees alone and upon which their survival depends. The wax and honey in the brood chamber is a small store of nutrients which the bees will use sustain them through the cold winter. 

Throughout the year there have been media stories about the health of bees, bees that have experienced colony failure. Worried ecologists have pronounced the bees are dying, the end of the world has come and all sorts of people who know nothing about it are tweeting their concern, but here it is, bees die all the time, in fact one of the bees jobs is to take out the bodies of dead bees from the hives.  Another job is to mark and scent the routes the bees will take to the harvesting areas, drones harvest and pack the honeycomb while guards first take an interest in then attack anyone they deem to be a threat. In my case being chased into the path of an oncoming bus - that's one way of killing a man (much to Colin’s amusement). Its our management that is causing all this, if we looked after bees in a way that respected their needs and environment this wouldn't be happening but we won't so perhaps most of all we need to learn how to adapt to change ourselves.

These bees, Lingfield Point's bees, are Mediterranean in origin they are not native to the UK. There, where the climate would permit it, they would fly all the year round but here there is a direct relationship between the temperature of the hive and the activity of the bees. The bees communicate using chemicals and little dancing flight patterns. Instinctively they behave as a swarm as if they were one organism and to some extent when you look at them they look like a thick viscous liquid.

When we set up to photograph the bees we did it with theatre lights thanks to friends Quondam Theatre in Penrith. We opened the hives and bathed them in a wash of powerful light. 

The bees were active and curious but not hostile. We shot nearly 500 photographs of the hives from which there are some great images. But for the last series in Futurescope we settled on a crop from a simple image of the exposed brood chamber from above. It should, fingers crossed, go up on Friday.

Thanks to all at Marchday especially John Orchard and his staff and for this image Colin Hinde and the selection of friends who loan kit and expertise to make things happen Quondam, David Chubb, Smoky Jo, John Hayes at Service Graphics and Neil Cruikshank.

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