The Oldest Living Things in the World

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9780226057507: The Oldest Living Things in the World
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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 to photograph continuously living organisms that are 2,000 years old and older. Spanning from Antarctica to Greenland, the Mojave Desert to the Australian Outback, the result is a stunning and unique visual collection of ancient organisms unlike anything that has been created in the arts or sciences before, insightfully and accessibly narrated by Sussman along the way.
 
Her work is both timeless and timely, and spans disciplines, continents, and millennia. It is underscored by an innate environmentalism and driven by Sussman’s relentless curiosity. She begins at “year zero,” and looks back from there, photographing the past in the present.  These ancient individuals live on every continent and range from Greenlandic lichens that grow only one centimeter a century, to unique desert shrubs in Africa and South America, a predatory fungus in Oregon, Caribbean brain coral, to an 80,000-year-old colony of aspen in Utah. Sussman journeyed to Antarctica to photograph 5,500-year-old moss; Australia for stromatolites, primeval organisms tied to the oxygenation of the planet and the beginnings of life on Earth; and to Tasmania to capture a 43,600-year-old self-propagating shrub that’s the last individual of its kind. Her 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 encroachment have put many of them in danger. Two of her subjects have already met with untimely deaths by human hands.
 
Alongside the photographs, Sussman relays fascinating – and sometimes harrowing – tales of her global adventures tracking down her subjects and shares insights from the scientists who research them. 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.

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About the Author:

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. A trained member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, Sussman has spoken on her work at TED and the Long Now Foundation. Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries in the United States and Europe.

Review:

“As a kind of time-traveling expeditionist — a chrononaut? —Sussman lets us drink from primeval wells. One of the great satisfactions of her book is that it allows us to peer at the almost eternal even as we’re mired in a culture quick to praise the new and ephemeral.” (New York Times)

“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)

“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)

“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.” (Time)

“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.” (PetaPixel)

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