Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A Ramble about Bees and Edward Swinden

As you’ll be aware from my last post I recently took a trip to Manchester’s Heaton Park. Whilst frolicking in the faux rural beauty of the estate I took some time to remember that I’m supposed to be a cultured city dweller and so I visited an art exhibition held in the Dower House.

The exhibit was one of the work of Mancunion artist Edward Swinden. Who is Edward Swinden, I hear you cry? Well, he is a former journalist who worked for the Manchester Evening News and the Metro. He has since become a professional photographer, Swinden told Fashion Rambler that he "stopped working as a journalist for many reasons, but the direct one was that I was offered a job writing for the BBC, and it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down." Swinden has always been interested in artistic photography, "I was always involved in various kinds of art, and in taking photographs. This became a bigger part of my life as time went on. In the end I decided to pursue it professionally".

An example of Swinden's work graces many of the region’s Waterstone’s Local Interest shelves in the form of that Manchester Gay Pride book, you have all picked it up to have a nosey! Only the exhibition at Heaton park was less about feathers and sequins and a little more about net hats, all-in-one suits and stripes. No, not a Christian Lacroix imitation a la Absolutely Fabulous but a series of portraits of Beekeepers! (as if you didn’t know).

Patel, Jitesh - Computer Consultant


“The future for me is honey, nuts, and good times.

Something the family can appreciate and share.”

Battle, Jim - Local Councillor


“I want to be part of Manchester’s bee plan...

doing a small bit for our city.”

Stanton, Mary-Christa - Nun


“We have a tremendous future if we properly use it. If we can get our families to be peaceful and happy that will happen worldwide. I think there are other planets with living things and one day we will make contact. But that will only be successful if we can manage our own planet properly.”

Nicol, Nathan - Social Worker


“Fun, happiness, and challenges. That’s what the future holds.”

Sylvester, Gill and Simon - Respite Childcare & Retired Surveyor


“You never know what’s around the corner.”

“You’ve got to be positive and optimistic.

Molyneux, Ian - Regional Bee Inspector


“I consider my children. I think they are the future. I worry about the

drugs and crime, and the environment they will be in.”

The exhibition, Beekeeper: to serve the Queen, featured 12 near life sized portraits from a selection of 41 Beekeepers from around the country, one image of them in their Beekeeper get-up and one image of them ‘off duty’. I’m not sure which images I love the most. Although I think it is safe to say that sci-fi super Nun is my favourite Keeper!

The ‘on duty’ images are static and mysterious. The uniform depersonalises the Keeper, they become one of many, like the Bee. The very nature of the word ‘duty’ creates connotations of work and hierarchy, like the life of a Bee. Swinden said of the ‘on duty’ images: ‘I wanted there to be an implicit military feel to the pictures, and a thoughtfulness. But other than that I gave no guidance to the sitters.’ I think Swinden achieves the military feel very well, without the portraits becoming threatening.

The ‘off duty’ images are a whole different concept. I had trouble matching the write ‘off duty’ photo to the ‘on duty’ partner as the sitters are completely transformed. The power, grace and collective purpose which their uniformed portraits produced has given way to individuality; they are no longer one of many. Swinden says ‘Stripped of their armour and sense of duty the beekeepers appear less powerful, but regain their individuality’. However, contradicting this step away from the-way-of-the-bee, the busy and cluttered home-settings of these images are strongly personalised habitats and therefore, in some ways, remind me of the crowded hive.

Swinden hasn't ruled out another Pride escapade but told Fashion Rambler "I don't think I'll be around for Manchester Pride this year. I really enjoyed doing the photos for the book, but I think there are lots of other photographers who will make a great job of documenting this year, so I think I should look at doing something fresh for me." The Beekeeper: to serve the Queen exhibition at Heaton Park has now closed but you can view the images at the project’s website here

Edward Swinden’s website can be viewed here,

copies of Edward’s Manchester Gay Pride book can be bought here,

and the Street B work and Beekeeper: to serve the Queen here.


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