My third subject in the Shokunin series, which explores the approach and ethic of craftsmen towards their work (for more information on the series you can read about it here), is Mary Woltz from Bees’ Needs. She is a beekeeper with hives across the East End of Long Island. I had the opportunity of meeting and photographing her in a beautiful, expansive field behind Marders Nursery in Bridgehampton. What struck me most about hanging out with Mary and her bees is how natural, respectful and I would say loving her relationship is with her bees. She speaks to them verbally and with the calm assuredness of her long limbed body.
Being with her around the bees makes you feel totally at ease. I had the chance of watching her collect a swarm with nothing more than water, a feather and a cardboard box. I was so focused on photographing Mary in her element with the swarm, I didn’t notice how close I was to the bees – my arms were covered with them and they were getting stuck in my hair. She said to me, “You have no fear”. In that moment – as in life – fear and danger felt so subjective. It would have never crossed my mind that bees could be dangerous, or were something to be afraid of in her presence.
After all the action around the swarm, it was beautiful to watch her do the work she does every day. The ritualistic scraping and cleaning of her hives, which ensures the bees are able to freely move about and continue their cycles of making honey. The hives stand tall reminiscent of Moai statues or altars of worship to nature in an idyllic, lush green setting.
There is an incredible duty, diligence and timeless nature to her work. She meticulously records her work in journals every day. Spending time with her I couldn’t help but think about Jane Goodall another gorgeous, fearless, dedicated woman I am in awe of. To me Mary is a hero, embodying the shokunin spirit by saving the planet through her practice and activism, helping to educate people about the environmental importance of bees and pollination in our ever fragile ecosystem.