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photo-eye Book Reviews: The Mushroom Collector

The Mushroom Collector, Photographs by Jason Fulford.
Published by The Soon Institute, 2010.
The Mushroom Collector
Reviewed by Shane Lavalette
 Jason Fulford The Mushroom Collector
Photographs by Jason Fulford. Edited by Lorenzo de Rita.
The Soon Institute, 2010. Hardbound. 196 pp., 115 color illustrations, 9-1/2x12-12".

As co-founder of the publishing house J&L Books and author of a handful of titles of his own including Sunbird, Crushed and Raising Frogs for $$$, Jason Fulford is certainly no stranger to the photobook. This holds true in viewing his latest publication, The Mushroom Collector.

Like a scavenger hunt for something intangible, Fulford links together a series of photographs in numbered chronology, beginning decidedly on the book's dust jacket: "1. It all started when Ted gave me the mushroom pictures," reads the text beneath a postcard picturing Russula Pectinoides and a book of matches. Ted had discovered these 'mushroom pictures' in a box at a flea market before deciding to pass them on. Unassuming at first, over time the anonymous images began to resonate with Fulford in a way that he simply could not ignore, eventually informing his daily photographic practice.

The Mushroom Collector, by Jason Fulford. Published by The Soon Institute, 2010.
 Fulford's pure fascination with imagery is likely what affords him the ability to create such splendor out of the otherwise overlooked. Combining the original flea market pictures with his own photographs and text, flipping through the book is a bit like watching him think out loud. As if images were words themselves, Fulford builds a visual vocabulary - assembling sentences out of a series of situations, exploring the significance of photographs and the relationships that arise in the space between them. While he attempts to make sense of his own images through the 'filter' of the mushroom pictures, the reader encounters a variety of scenes: an image of 29 cents in change on a tile floor, a garage door and cement driveway, a folded piece of construction paper, a dark stairwell, a shadow of a rock, the sun setting over a sailboat, experiments with sealife and an imaginary circus. Moving back and forth between 'reality' and 'abstraction' the scenes are specific observations but also seem to pose as questions.

The Mushroom Collector, by Jason Fulford. Published by The Soon Institute, 2010.
 The mushroom pictures traveled with Fulford when he went down South and worked on an island off the coast of Florida. Working in and out of his studio (sometimes bringing objects from the outside world in to be photographed), each image he made functioned as a sort of 'rehearsal' for the next. The reader connects the dots with the bits of text that accompany images, along with a sense of serendipity that I believe Fulford was, conscious of it or not, deeply in tune with. Just as the first was found on the front, the last image is printed on the back of the dust cover, suggesting that the idea cannot be contained within a single publication. In fact, Fulford has since continued the project while in residence at The Soon Institute in Amsterdam. Images 111-171 are currently archived online and another, pocket-sized book was just published to serve as the "Appendix."

The Mushroom Collector, by Jason Fulford. Published by The Soon Institute, 2010.
 It's rare and refreshing to experience a photographic project that is so playful. Involving experimentation, accidents and discovery, after looking through the book once it's just as delightful to loop back for another read. Whether you're familiar with Jason Fulford's work or not, The Mushroom Collector is bound to intrigue.—Shane Lavalette

Shane Lavalette (b. 1987, Burlington, VT) is a photographer currently living and working in Somerville, MA. In 2009, he received his BFA from Tufts University in partnership with The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His photographs have been published and exhibited internationally. In addition, Lavalette is the founding editor of Lay Flat, a publication of contemporary photography and writing on the medium. /