Born in 1965, Eric Tourneret grew up in a village near Annecy and now lives in Paris. His childhood by the lake and mountains made him aware of the wild untamed beauty of natural environments. At the age of 17, during his military service, he discovered Africa, travel, the desert, the encounter with other cultures and photography, which he since sees as a “storytelling tool”, as a “tool for going out to encounter others”.
Self-taught, Eric Tourneret began first with studio photography; he rubbed shoulders with fashion and advertising photographers, specialists in light and visual creation. Then he traveled the world during fifteen years for the magazine press (Figaro Magazine, Paris Match, Point de vue, VSD, Sciences et Avenirs, Géo…). A born technician, he can easily change style and guided by his curiosity go from an archaeological subject to a botanical expedition, from a social subject such as transvestites in Pakistan to the migration of monarch butterflies. In 2003, he adopted digital photography while making a commissioned book on decoration. For him, digital photography is a liberation: it gives him flexibility and frees him from budgetary limits to let him visit the unique, have the magical accident that follows 36 frames or 4000 snaps. Since, with the emergence of videography, multimedia has become a reality and Eric Tourneret continues his commitment to the bee and natural and human diversity by experimenting with photographic montages, videos and sound.
“For my photos I used CANON DS mark III and CANON D5 mark II cameras, 24 million pixels and the following CANON optics: 16-35 mm f/2.8; 24-105 f/4; 70-200mmf/2.8; 100 mm F/2.8macro; 65mm MP F/2.8 1-5x macro; 50mm f/1.4.
Also extenders, extension rings, supplementary lenses, and CANON and PROFOTO flashbulbs”.
Why this work on bees?
I grew up in a village on a mountainside above Annecy. When I learned about the dying out of the bees, my instinct as a child of the countryside told me something was wrong in our relationship with nature. I chose to commit myself to the bee and pass on the idea of a living nature.
Of all the countries you have visited, which has left you with the best memories?
My best memories are linked more to the people than the places, to the encounters, the sharing. I loved Argentina, which I didn’t know before and where I was received in the heart of a family, where you feel the solidarity of people who have known periods of wealth, but also of misery. In Nepal, the devotion of the Buddhists circling the stupas always touches me enormously, as does the organization of the villages of the Raïs with whom we stayed, and the dignity of their silence… Those people who live in extreme conditions always have a smile ready.
What is the bee’s main contribution to humanity?
The pollination of all flowering plants, fruit and vegetables included. Just think about it, each year bees provide a free service vital to humanity, estimated by the Inra (French national institute for agronomic research) at some 155 billion euros. This has no value on Wall Street, but it is huge compared to the turnover of an international company like Monsanto, which is only one billion US dollars.
Is it true the bees are disappearing?
Yes, in many countries, the exportation of our agricultural model of the taxpaying farmer owning hundreds of hectares, of intensive monoculture using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and, soon, of genetically modified plants weakens the bee colonies. Green deserts without insects are appearing throughout the world.
We are in a civilization of extremes. Farming uses petrol, it is dependent on government subventions, and that’s certainly not a model to export. On top of that, it generates enormous needs in terms of irrigation, a folly when you consider that the gold of tomorrow will be drinking water…
It’s said that if the bee died out, the human race would only have a few years left to live…
It’s an image, but if indeed all the bees disappeared, the world as we know it would be in danger. And the costs in human lives enormous… It’s civilization’s choice. We can continue to destroy the Earth while the whole time putting billions into research into colonizing outer space. But for whose benefit? That’s the question, and if that is the case, we might as well forget about human rights and the concept of individual freedom.
Which of the bees’ qualities has touched you the most?
The collective way of life of that insect puts up for interrogation our own social models. A Breton beekeeper told me that if a colony found itself with a food shortage, all the food would be shared amongst all the members, up until the end. A beautiful example of solidarity.
You have been working for five years now on the subject of the bee. How do you do it without sponsors?
That’s the difficult question. Since the release of my book “Le Peuple des abeilles” (The Bee Nation), my photos have sold throughout the world. It is, I hope, the start of a success story: I showed up at the right moment with the right subject. Today, my work is regularly exhibited in France - this past summer at the Photo Festival “Peuple et Nature” in La Gacilly, but also in big cities like Paris and Lille, in nature parks, libraries and museums of natural history… Foreign museums have started contacting me and I will soon have a permanent exhibition in Australia. My work has become a photographic reference on the bee.
What’s your favorite honey?
Ah yes, honey… I’ve tried some everywhere in France and a lot throughout the world. With the diversity of our land, we have in France an exceptional palette of honeys.
Beekeepers know how to make the most of this wealth by producing honeys from a specific flower: lavender, thyme, rosemary, chestnut, linden, acacia, heather, and even ivy. But for me, honey remains linked to childhood, and wherever it may come from, I will always be a fan of mountain honey!
Are you often stung?
It’s a question often asked… Ask a woodworker if he sometimes hits his fingers with the hammer! I work with the same protection as beekeepers, which still doesn’t prevent some stings, which happen when you don’t pay attention, or if you annoy them too much. For this work, I only had two real accidents, due to human error, one in Nepal, the other in Cameroon, which earned me about forty stings.
Are you scared of bees since then?
I’d sooner say that I love them more and more. Recently, I was up on the roofs of New York to meet beekeepers who set up hives despite the city’s prohibition of it. It was surprising: they raise bees of Italian origin, and I never protected myself. I even took pictures of kindergarten children discovering the bee without any protection… It makes you wonder if it’s not fear that brings on the stinging.
What advice would you give for protecting the bee?
Everyone can contribute by buying honey from locals’ beekeepers. People who have a garden: plant flowers and melliferous trees, create an embankment, hedges and opt for natural methods and products against parasites. And for those who want to go further, install one or two hives…