Eddie Adams Workshop: Jim the beekeeper, and only four bees

Eddie Adams Workshop: Jim the beekeeper, and only four bees

Jim Kile is an 89-year-old beekeeper who lives in Sullivan County, in New York state. He was my subject for the Eddie Adams Workshop, an advanced photojournalism workshop hosted and taught by some of the top photographers and editors in the Nation.
Jim has been making honey ever since he was a 9-year-old boy. He would follow bees back to their hives built inside dead trees that had become hollow. 
He was a charming and patient man, and shared memories of his days he spent in China as a Marine during WWII.

You will notice, unfortunately, there are remarkable few bees in a photo assignment dedicated to a beekeeper. It’s really hard to say what happened. It was humbling (and a bit embarrassing) seeing that two other workshop students also photographed beekeepers, and there were no shortages of bees in their images. Ultimately, I blame myself. I’m the photographer. It was my assignment.

It’s not like I didn’t ask Jim about the bees. I knew the “money” shots I needed: A hive tray (which is actually called a “shallow super”) covered in bees working furiously over one another, and a photo of Jim with bees flying all around his head. Those were the exact shots the other two workshop students nailed.

I asked to photograph the bees several times. Several times. Each time, I was polite and patient, and each time Jim declined for one reason or another. Mostly, he said the weather was too cold for the bees. He was the bee expert, so I didn’t question him. Though, later, I really wondered if I should have been more persistent. Who photographs a beekeeper and comes back with only four bees? Seriously?

Also, he didn’t have a bee suit for me to wear. I didn’t care. If I had to get stung to get the shot, then so be it. Perhaps he didn’t want to be responsible for me to get stung by his bees. I don’t know.

Part of the reason I didn’t press it was because I was already pushing my luck being there at all. When I first arrived to Jim’s house on day one, his wife, Vera, wanted to kick me out.

I never got the full story, but from what I gathered, photographers had been to Jim’s house in the past and left a very poor impression. That’s one thing that is always on my mind as a photographer. When I shoot an assignment, not only do I want to make sure I’m welcome back, but I also don’t want to ruin it for other photographers in the future. If I’m rude to a subject, then I just screwed my fellow photographers across the profession, not just myself.

It’s a careful dance going into someone’s house, invading his privacy, and stealing his story. Or in this case, his honey.

Maybe I just need to be more persistent.

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Surprisingly, my editors were incredibly understanding of my bee-less beekeeper images. I, myself, would have been less patient. Thankfully, I salvaged a few images, especially with Jim filling honey jars in his basement. Getting into his basement was a bit of a dance in itself.

His wife didn’t want me in their home. He basically snuck me in the next morning while his wife was at church.

The important lesson is that on every photo shoot assignment, challenges will happen, and you will always have to strike the right balance between respecting people’s privacy/decisions while persevering to get whatever shots you can to capture the story.

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During this year’s Eddie Adams Workshop had the tremendous honor of being part of Team Lavender. Our team leader was Pulitzer winning photographer, John Moore, who works for Getty Images, our editor was Kurt Mutchler, of the National Geographic, and our assignment producer was Daniella Zalcman, whose documentary and news photography has appeared in major publications.
Thank you all so much for your mentorship during this jam-packed, challenging and rewarding weekend.

About Michel Sauret

I'm a independent and literary fiction author and Pittsburgh-based photographer

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