269 pages, 124 colour photos, 4 colour illustrations
The Oldest Living Things in the World is an epic journey through time and space. Over the past decade, artist Rachel Sussman has researched, worked with biologists, and traveled the world from Antarctica to the Mojave Desert in order to photograph continuously living organisms that are at least 2000 years old. The result is a stunning and unique visual collection of species unlike anything that has been created in the arts or sciences before. She begins at "year zero," and looks back from there, photographing the past in the present.
The ancient subjects live on every continent and range from Greenlandic lichens that grow only one centimeter per century, to unique desert shrubs in Africa and South America, predatory fungus in Oregon, Caribbean brain coral, and an 80 000-year-old colony of aspen in Utah. She journeyed to Antarctica to photograph 5500-year-old moss; Australia for stromatolites, which are organisms tied to the oxygenation of the planet and the beginnings of life on Earth; and Tasmania to capture a 43 600-year-old self-propagating shrub that's the last of its kind. These portraits reveal the living history of our planet-and what we stand to lose in the future. These ancient survivors have weathered millennia in some of the world's most extreme environments, yet climate change and human interaction have put many of the species presented here in danger. Two of her subjects have already met with an untimely death.
Alongside the photographs, Sussman combines tales of her worldly adventures tracking down these subjects with informative insight from the scientists who are studying them and their environments. The result is an original index of millennia-old organisms that provides a record and celebration of the past, a call to action in the present, and a barometer of our future. Sussman's work is both timeless and timely, and The Oldest Living Things in the World spans disciplines, continents, and millennia. Underlying the work is an innate environmentalism driven by Sussman's relentless curiosity.
"Something astounding happens when Rachel Sussman photographs the most ancient organisms to be found across our planet. A fraction of a second of time in her photographic exposures animates forms that have evolved across nature's deep time to create a profound experience of being alive. Sussman's ten-year investigation of the symbols of the earth's ecology is rigorous and exploratory, realized with such generosity to the reader and her ambitions make an impossibly vast subject both felt and understood."
– Charlotte Cotton, author of The Photograph as Contemporary Art
"The Oldest Living Things in the World serves us the humbling profundity and pathos of things that live almost forever. We see our abstract selves and feel the terrible bludgeon of that which we cannot have and are fated only to behold. Rachel Sussman brings you to the place where science, beauty, and eternity meet."
– Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine
"The Oldest Living Things in the World adds in dramatic manner a fascinating new perspective – literally, dinosaurs – of the living world around us."
– Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University
"Contemplate life through the time scale of The Oldest Living Things, and you'll find your mind expanded and heart inspired. I'm thrilled to see Rachel's powerful TED talk develop and deepen into this captivating book. "
– Chris Anderson, TED curator
"Longevity means continuity. Long-lived people connect generations for us. Really long-lived organisms, like the ones Sussman has magnificently collected photographically, connect millennia. They put all of human history in living context. And as Sussman shows, they are everywhere on Earth. This book embodies the Long Now and the Big Here."
– Stewart Brand, cofounder, The Long Now Foundation
"I am in awe – awe staring at my planet's old sages, who know the way things were, will be, and should be – awe when I appreciate Rachel Sussman's epic quest to round them all up and her daring in stealing their soul with her photographs."
– Paola Antonelli, senior curator, Museum of Modern Art
“There’s a sense of wonder imbued in these photographs of organisms that seem to be a physical record of time, but there’s also a call to action. Many of these subjects of Sussman’s portraits are under threat from habitat loss or climate change or simple human idiocy.”
“Beautiful and powerful work at the intersection of fine art, science, and philosophy, spanning seven continents and exploring issues of deep time, permanence and impermanence, and the interconnectedness of life. With an artist’s gift for ‘aesthetic force’ and a scientist’s rigorous respect for truth, Sussman straddles a multitude of worlds as she travels across space and time to unearth Earth’s greatest stories of resilience, stories of tragedy and triumph, past and future, but above all stories that humble our human lives.”
– Brain Pickings
“The series, and now book, is part art, part science, and part travelogue, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Because whether you look at these as documentary photography or scientific snapshots of millennia-old species that are now being threatened by the looming specter of climate change, there’s something in this book for everyone.”
“A gorgeous book of stunning portraits which almost seem to capture the wise, wizened personalities of these scraggy pines, rippling sea grasses, and otherworldly mosses. Accompanying the photo are Sussman’s essays, which serve as both a scientific explainer and a captivating travelogue, transporting the reader to often freakishly remote locations on all seven continents. The book and its subjects are at once inspiring and terrifying – a testament to the resiliency of nature, of course, but also a reminder of its fragility.”
“Photographer Sussman has spent the past decade looking for the oldest things alive. Her search has led her to every continent, to specimens such as a 2,400-year-old fungus in Oregon to an ancient shrub in Tasmania (age: 43,600). She documents 30 of those organisms in her new book, The Oldest Living Things in the World. To find them, she enlisted the help of biologists and explorers – and even collaborated with the Polar Geospatial Center to get arctic satellite maps to reach a rare moss.”
– Wall Street Journal
Preface: The World as We Know It
Art Essay: The Future Is Invented with Fragments from the Past
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Science Essay: How Lives Become Long
Infographic 1: OLTW World Map
1 Giant Sequoia
2 Bristlecone Pine
3 Creosote Bush
4 Mojave Yucca
5 Honey Mushroom
6 Box Huckleberry
7 Palmer’s Oak
9 The Senator
10 Map Lichens
Infographic 2: Linnean Taxonomy
11 Llareta (or Yareta)
13 Brain Coral
14 Fortingall Yew
15 Chestnut of 100 Horses
16 Posidonia Sea Grass
Infographic 3: Deep Timeline
19 Jomon Sugi
20 Sri Maha Bodhi
21 Siberian Actinobacteria
23 Underground Forests
25 Antarctic Beech
26 Tasmanian Lomatia
27 Huon Pine
28 Eucalyptus: NSW and WA
30 Antarctic Moss
Infographic 4: Growth Strategy
Roads Not (Yet) Taken
Researchers, Guides, Guests, and “A Little Way Through”
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Rachel Sussman is a contemporary artist based in Brooklyn. Her photographs and writing have been featured in such places as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, and NPR's Picture Show. She is a trained member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, has spoken on her work at TED and the Long Now Foundation, and has exhibited in museums and galleries in the United States and Europe.