Text by Miranda Gavin
Alongside flora and fauna, fungi possess a kingdom of their own and are essential in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. It is to this realm that photographer and filmmaker Roy Mehta turns his attention.
As he forays in his local forest, Mehta lights the miniature worlds that he chances upon in his woodland scenes to highlight their sculptural forms and subtle shading. Expressed through the personal and intuitive, Mehta’s series of photos emphasizes aesthetics and wonder and, as such, they are removed from the sober taxonomical approach found in flower and plant photographs used in field identification books.
The images are quiet and reflective. In Mehta's vision the gentle, often overlooked theatricality and character of each unearthed mushroom is accentuated by the artful use of light and depth of field. Some are depicted in troupes, like bit-part players or extras cast in crowd scenes. Others are singled out, majestic and mysterious. Here are the protagonists of mystical eco-dramas played out against a natural backdrop in flux.
A river of burnished Sulphur Tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) cascade down a fallen tree trunk. Gregarious and tightly-packed, they devour rotting wood. Fragrant Aniseed Toadstools (Clitocybe odora) push from beneath the earth, changing colour from pale blue to light grey as their concave caps expand. A close family member, the Clouded Agaric (Clitocybe nebularis), tilts its undulating cap to the light, and a group of Butter Caps (Collybia butyracea) bursts through the leaf litter, dwarfed by young bramble. It is as if scale has collapsed and the viewer has entered a magical domain.
The work finds some inspiration in the illustrations and photographs produced by Victorian botanists who recorded the appearance of the diverse species they collected with great care and in minute detail. However, it is firmly implanted in the contemporary still-life photography genre in which natural habitats provide readymade stages, in this instance, for forest-floor shows.
Mehta’s interest in and approach to the landscape genre is evident in much of his personal work, not least in his on-going Garden Project, where he also searches for details in the natural world that he then turns into theatre. These ephemeral organisms are dealers in death, providers of food and decomposers of nature. Some are parasitic, most are symbiotic, some are edible, many are not. Micro or macro, fungi are side-lined superheroes of nature – some can absorb heavy metals, survive space and push through soil with formidable force. All are stars of the forest and field appearing either as solitary players, trooping, or in clusters; gilled or pored, they surface only when conditions are favourable. Symbols of the transience of life, fungi are elusive, often emerging and fading within days.