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The Oldest Living Things in the World

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The Oldest Living Things in the World

Rachel Sussman

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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 2,000 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 5,500-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 book spans disciplines, continents, and millennia. Underlying the work is an innate environmentalism driven by Sussman’s relentless curiosity.

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