Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Story of seasonal, migrant foragers for mushrooms in Northwest told by photographer who lived with them

Photographer Eirik Johnson has been featured on NPR and in magazines such as Audubon and Orion for his pictures documenting life in the Pacific Northwest. His series on the region's logging industry, "Sawdust Mountain," was recently published as a book. Johnson's latest project, "The Mushroom Camps," documents life of migrant mushroom foragers in Oregon. (Johnson photo: Mushroom pickers near Sisters, Ore., in 2011)

Johnson told Andrew Cullen of High Country News that he had little knowledge about the commercial mushroom trade until he went to the camps for the first time. The story is less about the mushrooms and more about the people who pick them, he said: "If you're going to build a small shack out of tree branches and tarps in the forest and live there for three months, chances are there's a story to tell."

The photographs in the series were taken during seperate mushroom seasons, the majority during the matsutake season in the fall. Matsutake mushrooms are picked, sorted and sold to Japanese markets, where they are prized and sold for a high price. Foragers are required by law to buy permits to gather mushrooms, an activity regulated through seasonal hunts. The foragers come from a variety of backgrounds, Johnson said. In the early days of the mushroom trade, pickers were mostly locals, but now most of hunters are from Southeast Asia. The annual hunts can "provide a shot of revenue for the small area communities," Johnson said. (Read more)

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