It can be awfully easy to overlook the everyday phenomena hiding right under our noses — or our feet. Photographer Steve Axford, 63, is on a mission to remedy those blind spots, though, by shining a light on the mysteries of the natural world's fungi kingdom.
Colorful and quirky, the mushrooms and other eccentric fungi that populate the photographer's collections create a whimsical mini-world, one in which Tinkerbell and her fairy friends would undoubtedly feel right at home.
The photographer, who prefers "Steve" to his last name — "I haven't been called 'Axford' since I was at school," he quips — lives not far from Australia's north coast, on a large property that houses many of the outlandish species he shoots and, naturally, a platypus that swims in a creek.
Steve occasionally ventures farther from home to photograph fungi; he recently shot some images while on a visit to Tasmania. But he mostly adds to his collections at or near his subtropical, rainforest property, utilizing natural light and long exposures.
The close proximity of his miniature subjects doesn't mean they're easy to find. In fact, most of Steve's effort goes not into making the pictures but finding the mushrooms.
"For me, this is the fun bit," though, he says.
One creepy-crawly set of challenges that comes with Steve's chosen subjects? The sinister fauna lurking about in the forests' dark, damp corners.
"I had to learn to cope with leeches, which I became allergic to in Victoria," he says. "Fortunately, I found that liberal use of mosquito repellent on and around my ankles, wrists, neck and waist would keep them away — and there were many to keep away."
That's just the leeches. Other nasty biters dwell in Australia's forests too, including disease-spreading mosquitoes, chiggers, and even paralysis ticks.
So what's the appeal then, of trekking about in the dank, humid woods, where pests big and small await?
"There is fascination with the unknown," Steve says. "There are probably more species of fungi on this planet than there are species of plant, yet we know so little about them."
Permeating his collections, Steve's determination to discover — regardless of how many leaves he has to turn over — celebrates the magic of life's smallest revelations.
**See more of Steve Axford's work on his website**