Antarctic Moss #0212-7B33 (5,500 years old; Elephant Island, Antarctica) © Rachel Sussman
Dead Huon Pine adjacent to living population segment #1211-3609 (10,500 years old, Mount Read, Tasmania) © Rachel Sussman
La Llareta #0308-2B31 (2,000+ years old; Atacama Desert, Chile) © Rachel Sussman
Mojave Yucca #0311-1233 (12,000 years old, Mojave Desert, California) © Rachel Sussman
Posidonia Oceania Sea Grass #0910-0753 (100,000 years old, Balearic Islands, Spain) © Rachel Sussman
Spruce Gran Picea #0909 – 11A07 (9,550 years old; Fulufjället, Sweden) © Rachel Sussman
Over the past decade, contemporary artist Rachel Sussman has travelled the world to document some of the world's oldest living things. The result is a collection of dramatic and poignant photographs that reveal the living history of our planet. They are a celebration of the past, a call to action in the present, and a barometer of the future.
The catalyst for this project was an unexpected hiking trip in 2004 to seek out a 7,000-year-old tree buried deep in the remote Japanese island of Yakushima. At the time Sussman was travelling Japan "with no agenda other than to make photographs exploring the tenuous relationship between humans and nature".
Inspired by the "the quiet beauty and power of the ancient Japanese cedar", Sussman gathered a team of scientists and biologists to seek out the world's most resilient species. Her criteria for such 'resilience' were that the organisms must be 'continuously living' and that it must have been alive for 2,000 years or more. For ten years the team documented 30 organisms growing in some of the world's harshest climates, from Antarctica to Greenland, and from the Mojave Desert to the Australian Outback.
The final collection of photos present "windows on what the world must have once been, producing pangs of pain - nostalgia for something devastatingly, unimaginably beautiful that is lost forever into the deep past - coupled with hope that we still might repair some of the damage we've done".
All 30 organisms documented in this project are reproduced in The Oldest Living Things in the World, published by University of Chicago Press.
A selection of photographs from this project appear alongside the Keynotes article and on the cover of Issue 290 of Resurgence & Ecologist (May/June 2015).