Recently I stumbled across the work of Brooklyn photographer and conceptual artist, Rachel Sussman. For nearly a decade, Sussman, working alongside more than 30 biologists, researched and traveled the world to find and then document the world’s oldest organisms and plants. The result is a stunning book published recently, The Oldest Living Things in the World, containing 124 photographs and 30 essays with contributions by New York Times science columnist Carl Zimmer and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Part art and part science, the pursuit of these ancient organisms has seen her criss-cross the globe, including being part of a National Geographic Expedition with Kiwi explorer, Peter Hilary to find and identify an illusive 5,500 year old Antarctic Moss last seen 25 years earlier.
A committed environmentalist and climate change campaigner, her portraits reveal what we stand to lose in the near future. Despite weathering millennia in some of the world’s most extreme and inhospitable environments, climate change and human encroachment endanger their survival. Asked by the Business Insider, how many of these ancient plants and living organisms are in danger of disappearing, Sussman stated “all of them, we’re past the 11th hour.” Sadly, two of the 30 documented plants have since met an untimely death as a direct result of human interference. The first, a 13,000 year old underground baobab forest in Pretoria, South Africa was bulldozed to make way for a road and the second, a 3,500 year old Cypress tree in Orlando was burned to the ground by a woman smoking meth in the hollow of the tree.
Below are some of my favorite photographs from the book – all photographs remain the copyright of Rachel Sussman.
The 2,000 year old La Llareta (or yareta) in Chile’s Atacama Desert looks like an overgrown moss but is actually related to parsley, carrots and celery.
A clonal colony of Quaking Aspen trees that has a single massive root system that began life some 80,000 years earlier.
Map lichens in Greenland that grow a mere 1 centimeter every 100 years.
To see more on this project, click on the video below.