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Darkwood mushroom series

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Darkwood Serenade, 2023

For months I'd been doing casual research on mushrooms, learning how astonishing their hidden world (and the world of fungi in general) really is. They are neither plant nor animal, existing in their own fascinating category. Mushrooms are the fruit of fungi, like apples on a tree.Their underground networks can take on epic proportions. The world's largest organism is not the whale, it's a fungi living in Oregon. It's an astounding 4 square miles and is thousands of years old.

In my work, I often explore the concept of finding beauty and wonder within the shadows. Similar to mushrooms, which thrive in damp and dimly lit environments, I draw inspiration from the overlooked and unexpected corners of our world. The fact that mushrooms flourish in dark and hidden places only adds to their mystique, as they become symbols of the hidden realms and unseen forces of the natural world.

Darkwood Symphony, 2023

Moreover, the visual aesthetics of mushrooms are simply mesmerizing. Their whimsical and intricate appearance has led them to be mythologized throughout centuries, through folklore and fairy tales. Mushrooms often serve as portals to enchanted realms or symbols of transformation and otherworldly experiences, whether symbolic or sometimes psychedelic.

With this rich symbolism and history in mind, I thought of how I could photograph them.

For me, the most captivating aspect of mushrooms are their magnificent gills, those delicate, feathery structures beneath their caps. I learned of a lighting technique that can make their gills glow, which was amazing! They essentially became the perfect subject for me, in sync with my body of work in so many ways.

I started going to the small forests in Chicago to find mushrooms and to see how I could shoot them at night, but I came away disappointed every time. The few I came across sat in difficult locations to work with. But the biggest problem, which I often face, is that most parks close at sundown. I’ve had cops yell at me for being in a park at night with my camera and I can do without more of that. A better alternative was to take the forest to my studio! This way I could create and control the most perfect conditions for creating exactly the mood and the images I wanted.

Darkwood Secrets, 2023

So I returned to the woods and this time gathered various forms of moss and branches and bark and went to garden centers for other items, including a mist maker. I became an expert at keeping moss good and healthy.

The final, and key ingredient was of course the mushrooms. There are several mushroom farms in Chicago and I got the generous support of two, Four Star Mushrooms and Windy City Mushrooms. They both grow very exotic edible mushrooms, sold mostly in bulk to gourmet restaurants. I showed them what I wanted to do and they were happy to help, so I am very grateful to them.

I returned to my studio, to build and arrange these tiny forest sets, and to begin bringing my vision to life. Each mushroom had its own unique character and presence, and I tried to create the sets to suit their personality. Looking through the lens, without my studio clutter to distract me, I could feel the connection between the miniature forests and the expansive woods where I first found my inspiration. The mist maker added an ethereal touch transforming my studio into a realm of mystery and wonder.

I shot them the way I do all my images: I lit them in the dark. With the lights off, I shot long exposures, with my various lights and colored gels next to me, alternating between them to add layers of light and color. From the darkness of the woods to the darkness of my studio, I was reminded of the magic that can be found when we venture into the shadows, explore the overlooked, and embrace the unexpected.

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