Building some buzz
An Alabama photographer captures the magic of a special pastime
You could say beekeeping is in Cary Norton's blood.
"My granddad was a beekeeper," the 34-year-old photographer says. "They lived on a farm, and growing up, it was, 'Go help your granddad with the bees.'
"It was a chore, then," Norton says. "Now, I love it."
But that affection is a recent find. Initially, with his childhood chores behind him, the Birmingham, Ala., resident's exposure to the world of swarms, hives, and honey was limited to those fond memories.
Then, the 2010 documentary called Queen of the Sun came out. The film used footage Norton had once captured of his grandfather. After getting the chance to watch the film in full, Norton — along with his wife, Stephanie Masters, and their friend Jillian Woodruff — decided to enroll in a nearby beekeeping class.
The trio was hooked.
"In the spring and summer, we're (at the hives) every weekend to see what they're doing," Norton says. "Largely, the bees can manage themselves and you need to give them room, so a lot of people are pretty hands-off. But we're the opposite, because we just love it."
When it comes to capturing the group's excursions, Norton says his photographic instincts just kick in.
"It's the way I digest whatever it is I'm doing," he says. "And with the bees, every time we go, we're overwhelmed by how cool it is. The way they build, their efficiency, the beauty of what they do…it's hard not to take photos."
Bees can be prickly projects.
Neither Masters nor Woodruff had ever suffered a bee sting before their foray into beekeeping. That quickly changed, Norton says, chuckling.
"It's not exactly fun, but it's not life-altering, either," he says. "The thing you feel worst about, really, is the fact that when the bees sting you, they die. So you're like, 'Oh, no! I didn't want that!' They're just trying to defend themselves and their colony."
Norton says his favorite part of the craft is that anyone can find connections to the bees.
"If you have an interest, anything at all, you'll love it," he says. "Foodies? Yep. Artists? Sure. Ecologists, architects — I haven't found anything yet that doesn't somehow apply."
"It's just really, really cool."