Of Bees and Babies

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Delayed gratification. That’s the name of the game in photography contests. Unlike sports competitions, where winners are known by the end of the event, in photography contests the outcome usually doesn’t happen until weeks later. Sometimes months later. And occasionally you forget that you even entered until a message arrives.

Which explains why we were scratching our heads recently at a thick package from Azuqueca de Henares, Spain, bearing a certificate reading “IX Concurso Internacional de Fotograf√≠a Ap√≠colaseleccionado entre las cien mejores fotograf√≠as del a√±o”. After awakening neurons that haven’t fired since high school Spanish class, we realized that the certificate was related to an apiculture photography contest that our friend, well-known Washington, D.C. urban beekeeper and self-proclaimed Bee-Vangelist Toni Burnham, had encouraged Clint Thayer to enter in April 2009.

The annual contest is held by the Town Council of Azuqueca de Henares to raise awareness of its environmental and sustainable development initiatives. At Burnham's urging, Clint photographed a beehive. Not just any hive, though. The Hive. Likely the only beehive with its own security detail, it was established in March 2009 on the lawn of the White House, tended by White House carpenter and amateur beekeeper Charlie Brandt. "The White House Beehive rocked the beekeeping world," said Burnham. "Charlie...fielded questions and was featured in beekeeping publications across the US, Australia, Germany, and many other countries."

The photo was not exactly an easy shot. “Finding the hive, to be honest, was a challenge. I didn’t know beforehand exactly where it was on the grounds,” said Clint. “I walked around the South side of the White House to find the right angle that would put the beehive at an angle that would also show off the White House itself. I remember struggling with a specific tree that was in the way. And then once I found the angle, it was about whether I had the right equipment – lenses and the like – on hand to do the photo justice.”

Whether shooting a sporting event or a beehive, the simple fact is that if you wait for the “perfect” moment, it may never come. Clint only had a few seconds to shoot when  - for some unknown reason – security officers came through and insisted that the throngs of tourists disperse. (D.C. residents assured us that this is a regular occurrence.)

When asked about the significance of the photograph to the beekeeping community, Burnham described her volunteer experience with Brandt  during Bring Your Child to Work Day on April 22, 2010. Brandt, Burnham, and two teenaged beekeepers presented the hive to over 200 children of White House staff members. "I often believe that the experience of being ignored by several thousand honeybees is one of the most transformative for people unfamiliar with beekeeping.  But for most people, the experience has to be transmitted via photographs -- there just aren't that many opportunities for direct experience," Burnham said.

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Clint's photograph showing the sunlit hive surrounded by magnolias with the White House as backdrop helped others share that experience, and was chosen as one of the top one hundred out of 746 contest entries.

Not long after, Clint found out that another photo he entered in an online contest had earned recognition. When he first mentioned he was planning to enter the Adorama iPhone Photo Contest, I was a bit dubious given the popularity of the contest - and at that point there were only a few hundred entries. By the time the contest closed, a total of 12,870 photos had been submitted – all taken with an iPhone.

Cell phone photography has actually become a genre in itself, believe it or not. The New York Times ran a post in its “Lens” blog on cell phone photographer Shawn Rocco, who shoots with a Motorola E815. Other photographers entering the field include Chase Jarvis, Allison V. Smith, and Robert Clark. In his book "The Best Camera is the One That's With You", Jarvis challenges mobile phone owners everywhere to shed their inhibitions and start unleashing their creative side. Thousands of photographers did just that in response to the Adorama contest. “In general, I’m happy that they had the contest. I think it equalizes the issue of gear versus composition, equipment versus photographic technique,” Clint said.

And a good thing it was that he ignored my skepticism, as "Mother and Daughter" was selected as one of about 320 winners. “I think what I learned from entering that contest is that there’s a third component: it’s about taking a risk. It’s about entering something that you don’t think you’re going to win,” he said.

“Photography is about composition, it’s about gear, but it’s also about taking that leap – doing something you don’t think you can do.”

Which is, most decidedly, a concept that resonates with athletes and photographers alike.

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