For the last 14 years, Beth Moon has been circling the globe documenting the world’s rarest trees. The San Francisco-photographer has traveled through the United States, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa on a trip that’s brought her to the sites of trees that are sometimes more than 1,000 years old.
The subjects are found in all sorts of situations: breaking through crumbling architecture, standalone in Africa’s deserts, even the seemingly upside-down baobab trees of Madagascar. One of her most exciting finds has been the Dragon’s Blood Tree. Moon shares a few words on the special species:
“Living up to 500 years, the mythical dragon’s blood tree with vertical trunk and arching canopy could easily be imagined as an umbrella blown inside out. When the trunk is cut, a scarlet colored resin oozes from the tree prized for its celebrated medicinal qualities. Sap from the tree was sought by Roman Gladiators to cure wounds. Once a vast forest, these remaining trees, unique to Socotra are now classified as endangered. Recent years have shown a troubling decline due to over grazing and insufficient cloud cover needed for young saplings.”
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.