Photo Essay: Bees and Beekeepers In Crisis

beekeeper photo kate kunath
Photo: Golden Millet, Beekeeper, St. George, Utah, July 2007 (Photo: Kate Kunath)

The mystery of bees disappearing all over the world is continuing to baffle scientists and beekeepers alike: is it parasitic mites? Or Bayer's pesticides? Reports of bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) happening in the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, France and Germany have prompted beekeepers to agitate for government action - absolutely essential when faced with the fact that bee pollination accounts for one-third of global food crops, and the possibility that global bee populations may be wiped out by 2035.

Of course, in our industrial food system it's rare to see the human side that's affected by such disasters in the making, but New York and Los-Angeles-based photographer Kate Kunath's beautiful photo essay on the subject fulfills this critical dimension. Like a lot of her subjects, they "often find her by coincidence" and the bee crisis found her by the way of a radio report in early 2007. See more of the photo essay after the jump.
beekeeper photo kate kunath
Photo: John MacDonald, Beekeeper, New York, April 2007 (Photo: Kate Kunath)

Oral traditions
After a year of following beekeepers and visually recording their daily operations and struggles with photographs and video, there's a deeper story behind the surface pastoral and the unflinching but sometimes haunting images of the series, titled Stung: Beekeeping in the 21st Century.

"One of the greatest assets a beekeeper has is the tradition of beekeeping, which more often than not is an oral tradition inherited from his or her family," says Kunath. "Many of the beekeepers I've met are 4th and 5th generation beekeepers who have a virtually unending supply of stories to share."

beekeeper photo kate kunath
Photo: Jonathan Millet, Golden Bee, Idaho, July 2007 (Photo: Kate Kunath)

According to Kunath's experiences and research in the field, the bee crisis is a culmination of a number of factors, including environmental and corporate / governmental misinformation, and the basic failure of regulatory bodies such as the EPA in representing the interests of the public. She notes that the lack of transparency in the approvals process has "[created] a major conflict of interest, as the EPA is then protecting the corporation."

But Kunath points to a divide between environmentalists, farmers and beekeepers over the complicated issue of pesticides that may not be apparent.

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