Mushrooms & Friends is a photography zine series documenting mushrooms as fantastical still lifes. Originally inspired by my visit to Smallhold, a mushroom farm in Brooklyn, the series has expanded to include both cultivated and foraged fungi.
The second issue will be released next Friday, February 21st at Honey’s, the mead brewery and bar in Bushwick, and features familiar gilled mushrooms as well as spongy, stalkless and club-like fungi. The collection is then juxtaposed with visceral props—a sliced orange powdered with tumeric, purple daisies on green sugar, the veiny texture of a cabbage leaf—and transformed into otherworldly, Dr. Seussian assemblages.
The cultivated mushrooms featured include Cordyceps militaris (above), a medicinal species that uncannily resembles the cheese-flavored snack, Cheetos. The fungus is tricky to grow and cultivation in the United States only recently began, in 2015. In the wild, the fungi feeds on moth larvae; whereas in the lab, it subsists on a healthy, conservative diet of brown rice.
Boletes (above) and blewits (below) found in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetary
Mushrooms found in Gurnewald Forest
On the other end of the spectrum are wild specimens from New York and Berlin, growing in places where one might least expect life to thrive. In Brooklyn, blewits and boletes emerge between ornate Victorian headstones in Green-Wood Cemetery, where people like Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Boss Tweed found their final resting place. Across the ocean, amanitas and shaggy manes play hide-and-seek near the ruins of a Soviet-era American spy station nestled in Grunewald Forest.
Perhaps the most exciting (and creepy) discovery is a parasitic mushroom in the genus Tolypocladium (above). Like a creature from a sci-fi horror film, its fungal spores infiltrate cicadas, feeding on their insides. Eventually, fruiting bodies rupture through the insect’s head and rise through mossy ground like zombie fingers. The macabre mushroom, currently awaiting DNA sequencing, could possibly turn out to be an undescribed species.
These are but a few backstories that have inspired this issue of Mushrooms & Friends. Each mushroom portrayed is unique and carries within it a cosmo of mysteries. Václav Hálek, a Czech composer, understood this well. In his lifetime, he created about 6,000 compositions by listening attentively to mushrooms. He describes what he hears: “The first is that the mushroom is pleased that I have noticed it…it wants to show me what it is and why it is in this world. Then a composition arises.” He adds affectionately, “Sometimes I give them a wink when I hear the music.”