Photographer Beth Moon Spends 14 Years Photographing the World's Oldest Trees

Beth Moon is a photographer who specializes in classic black and white imagery. Over the last 14 years she has been traveling the world documenting the oldest and largest trees on the planet. To promote her new book "Ancient Trees: Portraits in Time," Moon has shared this behind-the-scenes video of her platinum printing darkroom process which is pretty interesting to watch. Platinum printing is viewed by many to be the absolute best form of archival printing, and Moon's results are absolutely gorgeous.

Moon's tree project "Portraits of Time" initially began nearly 15 years ago when she decided to travel the world photographing nature's "antennas." The criteria she set for choosing her subjects was the age, the size, and also the historic value of the tree. Tracking down these massive trees hasn't been easy as many of them reside in isolated, hard to reach areas not often visited by tourists and photographers. All in all this project has taken her throughout the United States, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Moon's photographs are not simply for aesthetic value however, as her ultimate goal is to bring the viewer into a greater understanding of nature's wonder and ultimate coexistence with human interaction:

Trees are everywhere. We see them every day, so much so that we have become so used to them that it's easy to lose sight of their importance. By choosing these very large and iconic trees as a metaphor I hope to start a larger conversation about our natural world and the way in which we interact with it.

Many of the trees in this series are hundreds if not thousands of years old, with the oldest tree being an estimated 4,800 years in age. Being from California, Moon had easy access to some of the largest and oldest tress in North America (no signs of the Angel Oak in her portfolio yet), but her most well-known images are from far more exotic trees than the more common redwoods, sequoias, and live oaks. A large portion of her portfolio consists of species of baobab trees which can only be found on the island of Madagascar and are estimated to be over 1,200 years old.

From her own website, Moon writes:

Standing as the earth’s largest and oldest living monuments, I believe these symbolic trees will take on a greater significance, especially at a time when our focus is directed at finding better ways to live with the environment, celebrating the wonders of nature that have survived throughout the centuries. By feeling a larger sense of time, developing a relationship with the natural world, we carry that awareness with us as it becomes a part of who we are. I cannot imagine a better way to commemorate the lives of the world’s most dramatic trees, many which are in danger of destruction, than by exhibiting their portraits.

I've always been pretty fascinated by lone standing trees, especially those that have survived centuries of natural disasters and human development. One of the first Fstoppers videos we produced years ago was Jack Gescheidt's Tree Spirit Project which combines historic trees with nude human figures. This was my first experience with the use of photography to preserve historic trees that were threatened by urban development. Recently, traveling with Elia Locardi, I was able to witness firsthand some of the trees in Moon's portfolio from Cambodia. After seeing these amazingly complex trees intertwined into the Khmer Temples, I definitely have an even deeper respect for photographers who have set out to capture these amazing structures while they are still alive.

Check out more of Beth Moon's "Portraits of Time" series on her website, and view the entire collection in her recently released fine art book "Ancient Trees: Portraits in Time."

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2 Comments

Rodford Smith's picture

Are there Bristlecones?

Sean Shimmel's picture

Otherworldly... naturally.

Like an Amish purist... photographically.