Photographer Beth Moon spent 14 years traveling to almost every continent taking pictures of the world’s oldest trees. Sixty of the resulting photos – printed with luminous results using a labor-intensive platinum/palladium process – form her book Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time (Abbeville Press). It’s a stunning record of nature’s majesty.
“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. 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,” she said in her artist’s statement.
Moon adventured to the Middle East where she spent two weeks camping on Yemen’s Socotra Island. Located in the Arabian Sea off the horn of Africa, the island is home to 50,000 natives, and over 700 plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. Socotra has been geographically isolated from mainland Africa for the past 7 million years.
Socotra is also where the ethereal “Dragon’s Blood Trees” grow (lead image). Named for its scarlet colored resin with alleged medicinal qualities. These trees, with their astonishing umbrella-like canopies, can live up to 500 years.
They are now classified as endangered as once-vast forests have been decimated by over-grazing and climate change (cloud cover is insufficient to protect young saplings).
“The place was just amazing. Desert-like, dry and blazing hot, with the beautiful white sands of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean to the north. One night I slept under the trees of the Frankincense Forest, another in the Haggler Mountains under the Dragon’s Blood Trees.
“It was perfect, a dream come true,” Moon told the Daily Mail.
Incense that burned in ancient Egyptian and Greek temples was once harvested from this island; nine species of the frankincense tree (image above) are unique to Socotra.
Bottle trees, also called “Desert Rose” also sprout from the island’s alien-like landscape (image above). Bulbous and leathery, with roots that auger into rocky soil, they store water much like cacti.
Moon explored the baobabs of Madagascar, sometimes called “upside-down trees” because of their disproportionately slim branches atop massive trunk structures. This massive example pictured above is one of South Africa’s five biggest baobab, one of which is at least 1,275 years old.
Moon taps three criteria for selecting her subjects: age, immense size or notable history. She researches locations using historical and botanical books, tree registers, newspaper articles and information gleaned from friends and travelers.
England offered a forest of tangled yew trees (above), century-old roots gripping rocky perches. Britain’s churchyards provided some of her oldest subjects. A pair of yews named “The Sentinals” frame St. Edwards church in the Cotswolds (below), said to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagining of hobbit houses.
In Wales, this ancient chestnut tree (below) found on the grounds of Croft Castle date between 400 and 500 years old.
“Many of the trees I have photographed have survived because they are out of reach of civilization; on mountainsides, private estates, or on protected land. Certain species exist only in a few isolated areas of the world”, she says on her website.
With an estimated age exceeding 1,000 years, The Bowthorpe Oak in Lincolnshire (below) could be England’s oldest oak tree. It’s featured in the Guinness Book of Records and starred in a TV documentary about its impressive size and longevity.
Images of nature, particularly when rendered in black and white, offer powerful opportunities for momentary escape. These scenes are akin to visual poetry – open to interpretation by each viewer, revealing new information with each examination.
Nature photography can convey important an environmental message, but can also be a salve for stressed existence.
Moon had previously published another series called – pictures of creepy-yet-elegant meat-eating plants. She is working on a new trees series, this time captured in starlight, called Diamond Nights – a couple of photos are above. You can follow her on Facebook, and check out her work on her website.