In 2004, Brooklyn-based artist Rachel Sussman embarked on the photographic quest of a lifetime: to document the oldest living things in the world. Now, a decade later, Sussman is still going strong, her journey having taken her to some of the harshest and most remote landscapes, from the Mojave Desert to Antarctica to the Australian Outback. Driven by relentless curiosity underscored by a sense of environmentalism, the artist conducts research, works with biologists, and travels the world to photograph the oldest continuously living organisms in the world, creating a fascinating visual collection that spans disciplines, continents, and millennia.
Sussman begins at “year zero,” choosing to photograph organisms that are 2,000 years or older. Her ancient subjects include an 80,000-year-old colony of aspen trees connected by a sprawling underground root system; 5,500-year-old moss that lies frozen on an island in Antarctica; and a 2,000-year-old vivid green plant that thrives in the Atacama Desert. These unique portraits reveal the living history of our planet as well as what we stand to lose in the future. Despite the enduring longevity of these hardy organisms, many grow more and more threatened by climate change and human encroachment. Two of Sussman’s subjects have already died by human hands, a stunning loss that serves as a reminder of the need to maintain a delicate balance of ecosystems on Earth.
For the first time, Sussman’s work has been gathered in a book titled The Oldest Living Things in the World. Along with photos, the volume also contains essays, infographics, and Sussman’s accounts of her global adventures. According to the book description, “The oldest living things in the world are a record and celebration of the past, a call to action in the present, and a barometer of our future.”