Photo Essays

Nocturnal Photographs of the World’s Oldest Trees

Photographer Beth Moon documents the world’s oldest trees by the starry light of the night sky.

Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees
Beth Moon, “Delphinius,” a Utah juniper in Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah (courtesy the artist)

High in the White Mountains of California are trees over 5,000 years old. With their jagged trunks and tufts of green, the bristlecone pines  live in a deeper time than us. Since 1999, photographer Beth Moon has traveled the world to document a global grove of arboreal elders, and her new book, Ancient Skies, Ancient Treescontrasts their weathered silhouettes with long exposures of the stars.

Cover of 'Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees' (courtesy Abbeville Press)
Cover of ‘Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees’ (courtesy Abbeville Press)

“The long exposures used to make these photographs emphasize the passage of time and evoke the age of the trees, which is certainly considerable — although, compared to the age of the stars above, it is not even a blink of an eye,” Moon writes in the book, out this month from Abbeville Press. It follows her 2014 Ancient Trees, which featured platinum prints, with 50 vivid digital photographs of sequoias in California, oaks in England, and junipers in Utah. Some of the images fold out into large panoramas, and each tree is given the name of a constellation, like Atlas, Lyra, and Orion.

Similar to Rachel Sussman’s journey to track down the oldest living things in the world, Moon’s exploration took her to some of our planet’s most remote corners. From quiver trees in the isolated deserts of Namibia to baobabs in the dry landscapes of Botswana, each portrait is a study against a night sky. Their solitary feeling reflects both their locations and their timeworn growth beneath the glow of the Milky Way.

Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees
Beth Moon, “Atlas,” with a Great Basin bristlecone pine in Inyo National Forest, California (courtesy the artist)
Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees
Beth Moon, “Elnath,” with a giant sequoia in Sequoia National Forest, California (courtesy the artist)
Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees
Beth Moon, “Triangulum,” with quiver trees in Keetmanshoop, Namibia (courtesy the artist)
Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees
Beth Moon, “Subra,” with giant sequoias in Sequoia National Forest, California (courtesy the artist)
Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees
Beth Moon, “Polaris,” with a baobab in Botswana (courtesy the artist)
Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees
Beth Moon, “Lyra,” with a baobab tree in Botswana (courtesy the artist)
Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees
Beth Moon, “Fornax,” with a baobab in Botswana (courtesy the artist)
Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees
Beth Moon, “Eridanus,” with an English oak in England (courtesy the artist)
Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees
Beth Moon, “Orion,” with baobab trees in Botswana (courtesy the artist)
Pages from 'Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees' (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from ‘Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees’ (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Pages from 'Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees' (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from ‘Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees’ (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Beth Moon’s Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees is out now from Abbeville Press.

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