The Oldest Living Things

Rachel Sussman has spent the last decade capturing landscape portraits 100,000 years in the making.
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Jun 3, 2014 | By David Ethier

Rachel Sussman has spent the past decade traveling around the world, taking pictures of old things. Like, really old things.

Sussman had been traveling through Japan with no real mandate other than photography when she heard about a 7,000 year-old tree on the remote island of Yaku Shima. It took her two days to hike to its location. It wasn’t until she’d returned home and had time to think that she developed the idea to combine her passion for art, science, and philosophy. The Oldest Living Things in the World documents continuously living organisms more than 2,000 years old.

Spruce Gran Picea: 9,550 years old (Fulufjället, Sweden)

While researching for the project, Sussman worked with biologists and hit every single continent. The book includes portraits of thirty species, ranging from lichens in Greenland, desert shrubs in Africa and South America, fungi in Oregon, brain coral in the Caribbean, Tasmania, the Australian Outback – the list goes on.

Spanning disciplines and millennia, this work represents a deep timeline of which we’re a part. It’s a story of both permanence and impermanence – punctuated by the fact that many of these species are now on the verge of extinction.

La Llareta: 2,000+ years old (Atacama Desert, Chile)

In a stroke of genius – and an endeavor to encourage a connection between readers and subjects – Sussman chose to approach the photographs as portraits rather than large landscapes that happened to contain these lifeforms. 

Her choice to photograph these living relics in a portrait style forces one to think about what these organisms have lived through, our own permanence in human history, and why it’s important to protect them.

Pando, Clonal Colony of Quaking Aspen: 80,000 years old (Fish Lake, Utah)

Stromatolites: 2-3,000 years old (Carbla Station, Western Australia)

Antartic Beech: 6,000 years old (Lamington National Park, Australia)

Posidonia Oceania Sea Grass: 100,000 years old (Balaric Islands, Spain)

Huan Pine: 10,500 years old (Mount Read, Tazmania)

Palmer's Oak: 13,000 years old (Riverside, California)

Bristlecone Pine: 5,000 years old (White Mountains, California)

Artic Moss: 5,500 years old (Elephant Island, Antartica)

For more on Rachel Sussman's work visit her website

And you can purchase The Oldest Living Things in the World here

Images ©: Rachel Sussman