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Artist Rachel Sussman is obsessed with very old things that are still alive. No, not certain members of the British aristocracy. Things like the Pafuri baobab, a South African tree that is likely at least 2,000 years old — and requires an armed guard escort to visit. Or the stromatolites of Western Australia, organisms connected to the oxygenation of the planet that began some 3.5 billion years ago.

Sussman has spent years researching the science behind each shot, tracking down researchers to find out what they know — and then figuring out exactly where she needs to head next. “I try to approach them as portraits,” she says of her images. “I want to differentiate them from landscapes or straight documentary; these organisms have so much character and in some way they are all individuals.” In these often quiet, calm images, it’s the story beneath the surface that counts.

Many of the images are contained in her book, The Oldest Living Things in the World, in which she offers a crisp snapshot of a world that has lasted for millennia — sometimes against all of humanity’s best efforts. Here, take a look at some of the photographs. At the bottom, see the TED Talk she gave on her quest back in 2010.

Photos courtesy of Rachel Sussman.

About Emily Pidgeon

Emily Pidgeon is a person, not a pigeon. As TED's design project manager, she thinks about how images can communicate ideas.

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