Interview by Sara Sadeghi Aval, Photos by Janna Zachary

Photo of Mycena Mushroom

Thunder Bay is known for its beautiful scenery and photographic appeal. From sunrise shots of Nanabijou to views from the Sea Lion, photographers snap each angle of our surroundings. However, one photographer has taken it upon herself to showcase the hidden treasures easily missed by passers by. Janna Zachary, also known as @flora.thunderbay on Instagram, is showcasing wild fungi and lichens in all their glory. The Walleye spoke with Zachary about why she chose fungi and lichens as a subject, what inspired the pursuit, and what her favourite picture is.

The Walleye: Why did you choose fungi/lichens as your subject matter?

Janna Zachary: The things that fascinate me the most about fungi are the colours, textures, and astounding varieties. They hide in the forest and it’s like a little treasure hunt among the leaves, logs and moss. When I spot a special fungi I usually squeal “What are you?! You are gorgeous!” Lichens are easier to spot on rocks and bark. When looking for lichens you become immersed in a tiny world. Some of the patterns they create are mesmerizing. My favourite lichen photos are when I can capture multiple types within the frame. 

TW: What got you started on this? What inspired the fun? 

JZ: I started photographing lichen about 10 years ago on my iPod. On outings with friends or family I’d be the weird one, off to the side, taking pictures of the little fuzzy green patterns on rocks (I didn’t even know it was called lichen at that time).

TW: Do you remember your first picture? 

JZ: My first picture of a mushroom was also the very first picture I took with my Nikon that I purchased off Kijiji. I now know that mushroom was an amanita. I went on a walk at Mills Block to try out my new (to me) camera. I’m still a novice photographer; fungi are great subjects to learn on because they are stationary.  

TW: What is your favourite picture you have taken?

JZ: I like taking pictures of blue elf cups because the colours are so vibrant. When I’m out mushroom hunting I usually have a favourite picture of the day. However the exciting thing is that I don’t think I have taken my favourite picture yet. I am inspired to keep on perfecting micro photography of mushrooms.

Photo of Blue Elf Cup

TW: Where are your favourite places in the area to shoot?

JZ: Mills Block and Trowbridge 

TW: Can you tell me about the role these fungi play in our environment?

JZ: The role fungi play are essential to the recycling of nutrients. They are little decomposer friends who help turn organic matter into smaller molecules that can be used by other members of the ecosystem.

TW: What characteristics of mushrooms do you find most fascinating? 

JZ: I will often place my camera on the ground, trying to include the mushroom gills in my photos. It creates the aesthetic of making the fungi seem large, as if they are towering over us. 

TW: We see so much of larger nature photography here. Tell me what you find captivating about this specifically?

JZ: Noticing the small details on the forest floor can feel meditative. It causes you to feel present in the moment and appreciative of nature. There is so much to learn about mycology, and I have a drive to learn as much as I can. Since photographing mushrooms I’ve expanded my book collection, assisting me to distinguish different types of fungi. Having this interest has also connected me to new friends and online communities. 

TW: Have you seen anything very unusual over the years? 

JZ: Inky cap mushrooms are pretty unusual. When growing they can be strong enough to push their way up through asphalt. Also, if you pick them and place them in an open dish, they turn into (you guessed it) ink. Last summer I veered off the road on Water Street to photograph some in a parking lot. 

TW: What would you tell our readers who aren’t familiar with the intricacies of fungi? What would you like to share with a fellow fungi lover? 

JZ: Listen to podcasts about mycology, read the book Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake, attend mushroom walks when available! If you are a fellow mushroom lover, send me a message on Instagram and we can nerd out over your favourite fungi. 

TW: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned over the years?

JZ: Never stop exploring, and be curious.

TW: What is your dream mushroom to photograph? 

JZ: I have always wanted to photograph a bleeding tooth mushroom, however I haven’t been able to find one yet. They are white with dots of oozing red liquid.