Alison Pollack’s preferred subjects are the tiny, inconspicuous organisms that are difficult to spot without a trained eye and microscope. The California-based photographer documents the minuscule fungi that spring from leaves and bits of bark with an extreme macro lens, exposing the rarely visible iridescent speckles, pockmarks, and feathered tissues that cover their fruiting bodies. “My goal is to reveal to people tiny mushrooms and slime molds that they might otherwise never see, or may never even have heard of,” she tells Colossal. “And also to reveal the beautiful intricate detail in these organisms.”
Although her earlier images captured the fleshy fungi in spectacular detail, Pollack has spent the last two years getting even closer to her subjects—which are often less than a millimeter tall—by using a microscope lens that magnifies her findings up to 20 times their actual size. The resulting images document even the smallest features, like individual spores, the veiny web structure encasing them, and the distinct texture and color of each organism.
Find Pollack on Instagram and Facebook to see what she spots next and to order prints of her photos. You also might enjoy this documentary about the vast underground network of mycelium that’s tied to all life on Earth.
Captured around the globe, the winning shots in the 2020 Close-Up Photographer Of The Year glimpse some of nature’s most fascinating details, from the organs inside a shimmering glass worm to slime molds bursting with fruit. Dr. Galice Hoarau, an evolutionary biologist living in Bodø, Norway, took the top prize for his image (shown below) of a serpentine eel larva spotted during a blackwater dive.
In its second year, the annual contest garnered more than 6,500 entries from 52 countries. Photojournalists Tracy and Dan Calder, a wife and husband duo based in the United Kingdom, launched the competition in 2018 to “encourage photographers to slow down, enjoy their craft, and make long-lasting connections with the world around them.” Explore some of Colossal’s favorite close-up, micro, and macro shots below, and dive into the top 100 images on CUPOTY’s site. (via Design You Trust)
“The Rise of Molds” plunges into the minute world of four species of fungi as they fester, sprout, and morph from spindly, white shoots into dark, dense patches. Shot by Beauty of Science (previously), the timelapse captures Rhizopus, Aspergillus Niger, Aspergillus Oryzae, and Penicillium spores with a supermacro lens, magnifying the microscopic organisms as they grow and sprawl across the screen. Each of the molds is utilized to ferment common foods, like wine and soy sauce, and to add pungent flavors to cheese. Check out Beauty of Science’s extensive library of videos chronicling chemical processes and animal life cycles on YouTube.
Biologist and author Merlin Sheldrake is using a particularly self-referential marketing strategy for his new book Entangled Life. In a recent Instagram post, Sheldrake announced the mycelium-based project’s release with an image of the text literally bursting with fungi. “Here it is being devoured by Pleurotus, or oyster mushrooms. Pleurotus can digest many things, from crude oil to used cigarette butts, and is also delicious. Now Pleurotus has eaten Entangled Life, I can eat the Pleurotus, and so eat my words,” he writes. You can purchase your own (untarnished) copy from Bookshop.
A new film considers how mycelium and mushrooms have created an often-unseen network, similar to an underground internet, that has connected all living beings for the last 3.5 billion years. Featuring conversations with food journalist Eugenia Bone, mycologist Paul Stamets, and writer Michael Pollan, Fantastic Fungi: The Magic Beneath Us dives into how the diverse underground web creates the soil necessary for plants and trees to root. “It’s amazing what we don’t know about mushrooms. They really are a frontier of knowledge,” Pollan says in the film.
Fantastic Fungi explores seven benefits of the organisms, including those dealing with biodiversity, innovation, food, arts, and mental, physical, and spiritual health. Screenings are scheduled worldwide through February 2020. Follow updates on the film directed by Louie Schwartzberg and the broader fungi movement on Instagram. (Thnx, Laura!)
Photographer Alison Pollack’s subject of choice is usually hiding in plain sight. To find the minuscule but magnificent fungi and Myxomycetes that she shares on @marin_mushrooms, Pollack drops down to hands and knees with a magnifying glass. “The smaller they are, the more challenging they are to photograph, but I absolutely love the challenge,” Pollack tells Colossal. “My goal is to show people the beauty of these tiny treasures that are all around the forest but barely visible unless you look very very closely.”
Pollack, who is a mathematician by training and “computer geek” by trade (she is now retired from an environmental consulting career), relishes the technical and creative challenges of being a self-taught photographer. She seeks to create compelling artistic beauty with her images while also depicting scientific details in sharp focus. Pollack explains that focus stacking allows her to capture the depth and texture of her small subjects, sometimes incorporating upwards of one hundred photos to create a single image.
To increase the breadth and depth of her discoveries, Pollack travels nationally—and sometimes abroad—to find more fungi and Myxomycetes during her native California’s dry season. She also invests in relationships with other mushroomers, attending weekend gatherings to learn from her peers. “I would love to be able to travel more to different parts of the world to look for and photograph mushrooms and myxos,” Pollack tells Colossal. “Australia and New Zealand, and tropical regions, have mushrooms and myxos that really call to me, and I hope to be able to travel to those areas some day. But every walk in my local woods is a mycelial adventure!”
You can explore more of Pollack’s previous fungi finds on Colossal and follow along with her latest discoveries via Instagram. Pollack also offers prints of her photographs; if interested, contact her on Instagram as well.
Didymium squamulosum. Location: Mt Tamalpais, CA. Composite photo to show detail on both the stipe and cap with sporotheca.
Ascocoryne sarcoides and Trichia. Location: Trout Lake, WA
Willkommlangea reticulata. Location: Fairbanks, AK
Phillipsia domingensis. Location: Colombia
Physarum. Location: Fairbanks, AK
Crepidotus crocophyllus. Location: Pt Reyes, CA
Physarum. Location: Mt Tamalpais, CA
Leocarpus fragilis. Location: Fairbanks, AK
Mycena strobilinoidea and Clavulina. Location: Gifford Pinchot State Park, PA