The latest exhibition at the Mabee Farm Historic Site is one to get lost in.
“An Intimate View of Mushrooms,” takes viewers down a rabbit hole where fungi are as big as one’s head and nothing is quite as it seems.
The 29 photographs, done by Beth Harris, are at once whimsical and scientific. There’s an ethereal quality about them, yet the sharp details sometimes make it seem as if the fungi are under a microscope.
Harris, an Albany County resident, studied at the Pratt Institute. Her work has appeared in publications from Marie Claire to the Greenpoint Gazette and earlier this year her work was exhibited in Rome, Italy and Medellin, Columbia. She’s worked with a range of subjects, including architecture, portraits, botany, and, of course, mushrooms.
The idea for a mushroom series had been growing since 2015 when she and her husband became interested in foraging. They live on 14 acres of wetland, making it an ideal scape for mushroom finding, not just for food and photographs, but also for learning.
“Science and art go hand in hand for me,” Harris said.
The Harrises study mushrooms they come across both at home and during their travels throughout the United States. From a scientific perspective, mushrooms are interesting because they’re categorized as neither plants or animals, but in a category all their own: fungi. Their DNA is actually closer to that of a human than a plant.
The uses of both mushrooms and mycelium (or the vegetative part of fungi) are only just being explored.
According to Harris, mushrooms and mycelium are being studied as a biofuel alternative, for packaging materials and for medicinal purposes. People are also exploring the more delicious and edible qualities of mushrooms as well.
With “An Intimate View of Mushrooms,” Harris piques one’s interest in the scientific aspect, by shooting some incredibly close-up or at odd angles.
“I like to trick the viewer a little bit,” Harris said.
One photo of an Amanita mushroom, one of the most commonly recognized types, is taken so close that it looks like there are pieces of white popcorn in some sort of red bowl. In another, orange-red tentacle-like things sweep across the photo looking more like something found on a coral reef than on a mushroom. According to
Harris, the mushroom in the photo is actually called a coral mushroom.
Harris also pays tribute to the fungi field with a black and white portrait of Gary Lincoff, one of the former leading mycologists in the United States. Lincoff was famous for writing the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms,” and for leading mushroom hunts, especially during the Telluride Mushroom Festival in Colorado. Harris and her husband attended the festival several years ago and she was able to get a shot of him talking on one of his hunts. Lincoff passed away earlier this year and Harris said she’s thankful that she was able to meet him and capture a photograph of the man who has led the way for other mycologists and foragers.
Although the field continues to grow, the average person still doesn’t know all that much about mushrooms, scientifically or aesthetically. Even as more and more people go hiking in the Adirondacks each year, people are more concerned with the views they’re climbing towards than the ones at their feet. Yet, “An Intimate View of Mushrooms,” makes the case for looking below as much as above.
“ . . . it’s the beauty of exploring something you would often overlook,” Harris said.
The exhibition opens on Saturday with a reception from 2-4 p.m. There is a $5 entry fee for non-members of the Mabee Farm. “An Intimate View of Mushrooms,” will be up until November. .
For more information visit schenectadyhistorical.org.