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Lecture Notes: 'shrooming with a pro

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When fledgling photographer Taylor Lockwood moved to Mendocino, California, in 1984, he noticed mushrooms, lots of them, right outside the door of his cabin in the woods. He'd never seen so many in one place except in a grocery store.

Lockwood, a 53-year-old former rock musician, started taking pictures of the 'shrooms around his house. When he traveled a bit further, he saw there were many other varieties to be found in denser parts of the forest. "I like hunting mushrooms," he says. "You don't have to chase them like you do animals."

Lockwood reveled in the solitude, but he liked getting together with friends to display his latest photographic bounty, and he found the easiest way to do so was with a slide show. To liven things up, he added a sound track of mainly Baroque music, and within a year he'd landed a gig at the Los Angeles Mycological Society's annual fair. As word of Lockwood's show swirled among elite mycological circles, his audiences occasionally numbered more than 500 people. Thanks to his performing past, Lockwood was unfazed. "I'm up onstage and people often treat me like a star, but this is better than the rock 'n' roll days," he says. "There's less equipment to take around, and the audience is a lot broader and a lot more appreciative of what they're seeing."

What started out as a hobby for Lockwood had become a viable means of making money by 1989, when he was able to afford an international foray that had him scouring the fields of Siberia for fungi. In 1995 he journeyed to less forbidding climes in Australia. In what he describes as one of his "greatest expeditions," he traveled from the tropics around Cairns in the far northeast all the way south to Tasmania, making several stops along the way to snap specimens the likes of which he'd never seen before. "I'm an eco-treasure hunter," Lockwood says. "What I look for is the prettiest and most interesting and most bizarre. Australia has a lot of those." After that his slide shows became even more successful, and he was able to buy a computer that allowed him to post his photos for mushroom fans to view on the Web. Lockwood made photographing fungi his full-time job in 1997.

Last year Lockwood went on the most ambitious of all his trips so far--Thailand, southeast China, Malaysia, and Indonesia. There are an estimated 15,000 mushroom species worldwide, and Lockwood encountered some of the rarest, including the pink pleurotus and purple amanita, during his five-month trek. But it was in Malaysia's Taman Negara forest that he made his most important find--a mushroom he hasn't been able to identify. He brought the specimen back with him and is displaying it on his current "Endless Foray" slide-show tour, which is sure to draw some expert able to figure out what it is or confirm that Lockwood's discovered a new species. "Even though I don't have the name for it yet, people's reactions have been amazing," he says. "It's because they're seeing something they've never seen before and may never get to see again."

Lockwood says he's now writing some original music to play on future tours. He's been traveling the country since August 20 and plans to do some mushroom hunting in Wisconsin before Monday's gig at the Field Museum, where he'll be a guest speaker at the Illinois Mycological Association's monthly meeting.

Lockwood hopes that proceeds from sales of his mushroom postcards (available on his Web site, www.mcn.org/2/tfl) will help finance his first expedition to Africa next year. Meanwhile, he says, he's looking forward to visiting the Chicago area, which is home to between 1,000 and 1,200 mushroom species.

The show starts at 7:30 Monday in Lecture Hall One at the Field Museum, Roosevelt and Lake Shore Drive (enter through the west door). Admission is $5. For more information, call 847-432-8256. --Sarah Downey

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