The Mushroom Man: Taylor Lockwood

For over 25 years, American mycologist and photographer Taylor Lockwood has been travelling all four corners of the globe, “chasing the rain” in pursuit of the world’s most spectacular and exotic mushrooms. Lockwood, who defines himself as an aesthetic mycologist, uses the photographic medium not merely as a means of cataloguing the organism, but to portray their beauty. From Chile to China, Zimbabwe to New Zealand, the fruits of his quests are available for all to see on his online galleries. In fact, Lockwood has such a passion for mushrooms that his offerings also extend to a host of books, DVDs and even songs. On top of this, he designs calendars, posters and placemats, which are naturally all adorned with his awesome fungal images.

Intrigued by the specialist nature of his work, we spoke to Lockwood about his long-time fascination with the Fungi kingdom, or “mushroom fever” as he puts it…

Taylor, how did you become interested in mushrooms and what led you to photograph and document them?

I have been involved with art and music all of my life so when I “discovered” mushrooms, it was not an issue to become involved with something natural and beautiful.

Do you find it as exciting as you always did?

Maybe more so. With only 5% of the estimated number of species named, there is a lot to do. Every time I go on a hunting journey I find things totally unexpected, some new to science, many new to me. Even in the worst situations (for mushrooms) I manage to get good shots.

Many people risk their lives for mushroom picking and eating, what do you think it is that gives people such a fearless sense of adventure?

There are a lot of reasons for this (an article unto itself) but basically people like to eat mushrooms, don’t know about the bad ones and are careless at the same time. Part of the problem is that mushrooms can appear after years of absence and the old “rules of thumb” don’t apply, they eat the wrong mushrooms, and get sick.

Are there any specific varieties of mushroom that have particularly strange qualities?

There are many. One group I like are the Termitomyces. Termites cultivate the mycelium for food in underground gardens and exude a chemical to prevent the fungi from fruiting above ground. But when the termites abandon the nest, the mushrooms can appear within a day – in profusion.

What has been the greatest adventure in your work so far?

Trying to convince the American establishment that mushrooms can be beautiful. Europe is far ahead of us in that regard.

I noticed that you studied architecture and art before biological sciences; can you tell me a bit about that progression?

I always wanted to be an architect but I was always playing music (drums and guitar back then). I started in the college of Architecture at the University of Washington (state) but I was more fascinated by black and white photography and the darkroom in the basement. Then I got into the music scene in Seattle (in 1965) where I started playing blues and rock and roll on the violin. That was the end of my architecture career. However, music and graphics have been in my life continually since then.

Is there a particularly lesser spotted variety that you haven’t yet captured?

Probably thousands. Every time go to an exotic place I find exotic mushrooms. Even if I’ve seen them before I have a chance to get a better photo. However, I always find something new.

Do you eat mushrooms and if so which variety is the best tasting? Is there a special recipe you can recommend?

I’ve had many great mushrooms but I don’t cook much so it was others’ recipes and talent that I tasted. Favourites include: Agaricus augustus, Grifola frondosa, Boletus edulis and chanterelles.

How does the internet inform your work? It seems that anyone with a specialised interest is able to access communities and forums to exchange information a lot easier nowadays.

My whole career has been about the internet. All my international connections came through the web, all the photos I sent out, all the information I’ve researched, etc. I got my first computer in 1996, just about the time the Internet was getting hot. I consider that point the start of my professional career.

The hallucinatory effects of certain mushrooms have had a great impact on creativity through the ages, dating as far back as the Aztecs, with references cropping up in children’s stories, music and art. Is this something that interests you and have you tried them for this purpose?

It interests me very much. If I had time I would learn more about it but I’m very busy doing what I do best. As for whether I’ve tried them, I graduated from high school in 1964, what do you think?

Duh. As if his great psychedelic laminated posters weren’t evidence enough (see below). Check the extent of Lockwood’s obsession plus his champion online store at www.taylorlockwood.com.