Frank Spinelli's book Mushrooms Exposed reveals the hidden beauty of fungi. He stages studio shots using mirrors, black velvet and Photoshop to render vivid images that bring one of nature's most mysterious and intriguing organisms to life.
Drawing inspiration from the forests near his Woodstock home, Spinelli became fascinated by mushrooms in the 1980s. "I began taking specimens back to New York City to photograph them in my studio. I wanted to name my subjects and because of my innate sense of curiosity, I learned all I could about mushrooms until I was able to identify them and be confident enough to even eat some species," he explains.
A longtime resident of the Hudson Valley, Spinelli moved to New York City after college to learn still-life photography and opened Spinelli Studio in 1978. His first noteworthy assignment was a cover for New York magazine, a portrait of a red snapper for a feature on buying fish.
When asked about shooting in the wild versus the more controlled studio setting, Spinelli says, "I photographed and wrote a book in 2006 called The Glorious Mushroom. The mushrooms in that book were all photographed in their natural environment in the same forest surrounding my home. In 2006, I relocated my photo studio from Manhattan to a building beside my house with all its studio equipment and I simply continued using my still-life skills, a natural progression of what I had been doing in the city."
Though he enjoys the inherent surrealism of black-and-white photography and created a special section in the book to make the original identification callouts look like an X-ray positive, Spinelli prefers to shoot in color. With 50 years of experience taking and looking at photos, he has developed a formula for achieving the look he wants. "The ability to 'see' a photograph is a complex affair. One needs to understand their feelings and sensations, the signals and markers of what visually excites oneself," he says. "All photographs generally contain combinations of four components: ambiance (light); point of view (angle); subject (place, moment, a personality); and design, including color combinations, the S curve, and the compositional element," he says.
Beginning his career as an advertising still life photographer, Spinelli trained his eye to make objects look iconic. He's also a travel photographer, as interested in humans as he is the natural world and sees connections amongst all sentient beings. "I love photographing people, whether in my studio or in the street, and in a way, the mushroom photos are also portraits," he says.
"I hope my photos can show how we are essentially all the same at our core, yet individual in our minutia, like our fingerprints. The fungal mycelial network, having existed on our planet for billions of years, likely played a role in the world's development of our flora and fauna. The human brain acts uncannily like a mycelial network," he adds.
This is Spinelli's second cover for Chronogram. In 2014, we featured a photo from his Burning Man documentary project, Burning Man: Into a 21st-Century Utopia, on the cover of the December issue.