Working with Adrienne Harvey on her feature about the season of beekeeping has been a really terrific process for us both. There have been a ton of Facebook messenger conversations, quick questions asked and answered, reminders, updates. One day a quick check-in turned into a free-flow conversation about the process of finishing a project, how exactly you put into a final presentation everything you’ve come to understand through making the work. I hope you enjoy eavesdropping on our chat. And there’s a link at the end to a special treat!
Adrienne: Tell me if my essay is too introspective - as I mentioned, I’m right at the immersion/reflection point of the whole experience.
Katie: No - I think it’s great. Don’t second guess yourself. I love how personal it is and how you get to the interconnectedness of the bees, the keepers, the land, farm, weather …
A: Thanks! I like it too - I’m just wondering if the images reflect it, because I didn’t feel all that until after the shooting wrapped up.
K: Looking back from your viewpoint now, what would you do differently in the shooting phase of this project? Or would you extend the project so shoot it differently with your new insight guiding you?
A: Good question - it’s interesting, because I dont think I’d have gotten to where I am now without the shooting I did. This might be why writers are sent along with photographers? [laughs]
A: Writing is a reflective process, while shooting is an “in the moment” process.
K: You’ve got me thinking about my own project. I’m thinking I need to do some writing about it, and uncover what parts of it aren’t really represented in photos yet.
A: I don’t know how aware you can be of how you feel until it’s wrapped up. I have to imagine, and want to believe, in the “magic” that as I was shooting, I was processing what I now I feel more clearly, and that the story is in there. This is why I need an editor!
K: Thats a really great point: The “magic” is how the Story develops out of the human experience of documenting the simple activities in front of you. You “cover” the story through photos, but something new grows out of you as you do that work.
A: Yes! I like that a lot. And it would be easy to disappear into a hole and look through 6,000 images again and again, but at some point the magic dissipates and it’s drudgery and nothing moves forward. And maybe it’s the story of my images and maybe it isn’t, but it is the story of the photographer who took the images. Are they two separate stories that go together? I’m not sure.
K: Maybe that’s something that distinguishes some artists over others: the ability to merge the two stories. The story that IS, which you’re photographing, and the one that BECOMES in you as you create, learn, reflect and explain. If I were an editor in a more traditional sense, I might say that based on your essay, you should go back and create more images of the farm, the weather…
A: Yes. Yes. Yes. Right - the story is good so go back and get the images to back it up.
K: This is what we get, that photojournalists don’t: all the time we want to continue working a story. I’d love for those of us with the desire to do so, to claim the right and ability to give our stories all the time they need. That’s one reason that there’s an “In Process” category in Confluence — so we can show and talk about work before we finish a project, if we’re spending a long time on it. And I hear you saying there’s something really important happening in the reflection process.
A: I feel like if I get the story in my essay “off my chest” and addressed, then I can go back and peel off that layer and find the other story there - the bee’s story, because it’s there too.
K: You’re really giving me happy chills right now!
A: The bees were a different type of animal than I expected.
K: How so? How did you expect them to be(e)?
A: Well with most animals there’s an acknowledgement of the human’s presence, an interaction of sorts. But I didn’t get that from them. They were, as I perceived them, mostly indifferent to me.
K: And was it the same for the beekeeper - were they indifferent to him or would he say there’s more interaction with the bees, from his perspective?
A: He understood them in terms of the sounds they made and what smells they emitted. So, non-visually, which is only just beginning to make sense.
K: Wait, smells? That’s wild.
A: Yes! Angry bees smell like bananas.
K: So if you could go back to certain days or moments, what would you add to this project? Or do you think you could only move forward, going out again to shoot what you now would like to add in, to make the story more closely match what you discovered in your reflection?
A: I’m learning so much about how I work, and what I’m thinking and feeling - that’s from doing this with you. I’m really thankful for this invaluable experience.
K: Oh that’s interesting - you mean the process of presenting your work is actually a part of your creation process too?
A: I think realizing that there is both the story of the photographer and the story of the images is a big step in moving through this process. … and I keep thinking about the idea in the family documentary genre, the idea of authenticity. I feel good about capturing the bee keeping season authentically. So… I don’t think I would change anything [about the way I shot]. I think what I have to do - where the truly hard work is - is to understand what is there, and to express it fully in its presentation. Now, in addition to coming to terms with the concept of there being two stories, I also have to come to an understanding of where my expectations or suppositions are clouding my ability to narrate what actually was. And, to get a little alt/muse/magic on you… what is it that’s there wanting to be expressed. But, that’s interesting, what you said about the process of presenting work being a part of the creation process too - I think yes. Absolutely. So much. The presentation is is a whole level of commutation in and of itself. I’m just seeking a balance of thoughtful crafting and not mindfuxxing the thing to death. Fine line.
K: This is a great convo. But, uh, I have to get my hair cut now.
A: It really is, and such a refreshing contrast to the three Christmas-crazed kids running circles around me. Talk to you later!
Follow this link to see Adrienne’s video presentation of her project.