Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees by Beth MoonAncient Skies, Ancient Trees by Beth Moon

Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees

PhotographerBeth MoonContribution byClark Strand

Hardcover | October 25, 2016

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Throughout much of the world, night skies are growing increasingly brighter, but the force that protects the remaining naturally dark sky, unpolluted by artificial light, is the same that saves its ancient trees#151;isolation. Staking out some of the world’s last dark places, photographer Beth Moon uses a digital camera to reveal constellations, nebulae, and the Milky Way, in rich hues that are often too faint to be seen by the naked eye. As in her acclaimed first volume, Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time, these magnificent images encounter great arboreal specimens, including baobabs, olive trees, and redwoods, in such places as South Africa, England, and California.

In her artist’s statement, Beth Moon describes the experience of shooting at night in these remote places. An essay by Jana Grcevich, postdoctoral fellow of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, provides the perspective of a scientist racing to study the stars in a world growing increasingly brighter. Clark Strand, the author ofWaking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age, takes a different tack, illuminating the inherent spirituality of trees.
Beth Moonis a photographer based in New York who has gained international recognition for her large-scale, richly toned platinum prints. Her prints are held in numerous public and private collections and have appeared in more than sixty solo and group exhibitions in the United States, Italy, England, France, Israel, Brazil, Dubai, Sing...
Title:Ancient Skies, Ancient TreesFormat:HardcoverDimensions:116 pages, 11 × 11 × 0.98 inPublished:October 25, 2016Publisher:Abbeville Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0789212676

ISBN - 13:9780789212672

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Read from the Book

Introduction: Diamond NightsAs night falls over the Makgadikgadi Pans, giant trees stand starkly against the horizon. Leafless branches reach for the light. On the opposite side of the sky, Earth’s shadow is rising. True wildness manifests itself in the form of curling black branches in November, silhouetted against an indigo sky.Time exposures blend the boundaries between the visible and the invisible. There is a middle zone where splendor comes into being, where two very different realities mingle and blur. If magic exists anywhere, it is here.My work photographing trees began in 1999, when I set out to record the lives of some of the oldest trees from different parts of the world. I chose trees that were remarkable for their size, age, or history. This fourteen-year project was documented in my previous book, Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time. I usually photographed in the early morning light or caught the sun low in the sky as it was about to set. Rarely did I give thought to the hours after dusk. Then I learned of two interesting studies that correlated tree growth with celestial activity, and it changed the way I looked at trees. One of these studies, conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, suggests that trees may grow faster when more cosmic radiation reaches Earth’s surface. The other was carried out by independent researcher Lawrence Edwards, who found that tree buds change shape and size rhythmically all through winter, in regular cycles corresponding to the movements of the moon and planets. The oak, for example, appears to be linked with Mars, the beech with Saturn, and the birch with Venus. Curiously, Edwards also found that overhead power lines disrupted this planetary influence. More broadly, David Milarch, founder of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, has said, “Trees are solar collectors. Most people equate that with the sun’s energy. But the sun is only one star, and there are billions of stars that influence Earth with their radiation. . . . I also believe energies inside the earth are transmuted and transmitted into the cosmos by the trees, so the trees are like antennas, senders and receivers of earth energies and stellar energies.” These insights reminded me of how interwoven all relationships are in the natural world, where it is impossible to examine a single phenomenon without finding links to everything else. I continued to chronicle the oldest trees, but now I used the hours of darkness to photograph under the light of the stars. Full circle. This inspiration was the starting point of a new series of images that I titled Diamond Nights. My first journey to southern Africa for this project, on what I might call a celestial safari, left me speechless under a dazzling array of stars. I don’t think I was prepared to see the enormity of the universe laid out so starkly above me, the Milky Way stretching from one end of the horizon to the other. To find those skies, and the trees beneath them, I traveled for many hours without road signs, or even roads, to areas so remote and wild the darkness was almost palpable. If ever the night was a stage of its own, it was here. In other countries, finding dark locations with the right degree of atmospheric clarity was challenging. Many supposed “wild places” had light pollution from nearby towns whose artificial lights overpowered the darkness. It has been said that mankind’s destiny is written in the stars, but it will be a very bleak destiny if we can no longer see the stars. This challenge was compounded by the necessity of photographing during the months of the year when branches are bare, during a new moon, on nights without wind or clouds. The solution, of course, to all these problems was patience and time. So that was my mantra as I waded through knee-high mud, waited out windstorms, and scouted countless locations in my search for the darkest places where the oldest trees grew. Some of the world’s most astonishing night skies are over remote and hard-to-reach places, while others are over protected areas such as nature preserves and national forests. Often I would determine the best viewpoints during the day, and mark them with rocks. Other times I would set up at dusk and wait. If it was cloudy, I would return throughout the night to see if the sky had cleared. In most cases, I used a wide-angle lens and an ISO of 3200 to 6400. Exposures of thirty seconds allowed enough light to enter the lens without noticeable star movement. Each location required considerable experimentation and different techniques of lighting the trees. Sometimes a short burst of diffused light from a flashlight was sufficient, or bounced light from multiple flashlights was used for a softer more natural glow. This work marked my transition not only from film to digital capture, but also from black and white to color. Up until this point, the majority of my work was done with a medium-format film camera, but the long exposure time needed to photograph at night was not possible with film. Evolving digital technology has produced cameras with features that accommodate these conditions, such as higher ISO (light sensitivity) settings and better means of reducing the “noise” (unwanted aberrations) that occurs with long exposures. As a platinum printer rendering images in black and white, I never imagined I would print in color. However, I was greatly surprised when I saw these new images on the viewfinder of my camera, and again the next day when I reviewed them on a larger screen. The color was so vivid! I realized the camera sensor has a much higher dynamic range of vision in the dark than people do. The length of exposure contributes to the intensity of the color as well. In a long exposure, the camera continuously records data, stacking the light as it falls on the sensor. By comparison, the human eye processes data immediately. So in essence, long exposures allow us to see an accumulation of light that would be impossible with the unaided eye. I understood that the vibrant range of colors recorded by the camera was an integral part of the process, and therefore I felt the images should be printed in color. Instead of concentrating on individual trees, in this series I considered tree species in general, and their relationship to the night sky. The trees I chose to feature were baobabs, quiver trees, bristlecone pines, junipers, olive trees, Joshua trees, sequoias, chestnuts, and oaks. 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. These images chart my own fascination with the wonders of our universe and are intended to invite viewers into a mysterious, abstract world. I have intentionally omitted references to time and exact location. The ancient Greeks and Romans named the stars and constellations after varied symbols and creatures, reflecting the richness of human imagination. I have adopted these names as titles to the images in this book. The stars and constellations referenced in the titles are not necessarily visible in the images; instead, I hope the titles will serve to inspire the viewer’s imagination.

Table of Contents

Diamond Nights by Beth Moon

Revealing Darkness by Jana Grcevich


United States
Great Britain

Photography as Pilgrimage by Clark Strand


Index of Trees

Editorial Reviews

AWARDS2016 Holiday gift guide selection — San Francisco Chronicle2016 Holiday gift guide selection — Entertainment Weekly2016 Holiday gift guide selection — Chronogram Magazine 2016 Holiday gift guide selection — Atlas Obscura 2016 Holiday gift guide selection — Poughkeepsie Journal 2016 Holiday gift guide selection — Palisade News PRAISE FOR ANCIENT SKIES, ANCIENT TREES"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." —Hyperallergic"The resulting images show awe-inspiring Tolkienian landscapes photographed in such sharp detail that when reproduced on the page they have the texture of oil paintings. ... More than an art book for photographers or those interested in nature, Moon's latest book will captivate all." —Starred Review, Publishers Weekly"Otherworldly is the best word to describe Beth Moon’s latest offering...Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees allows readers to see the world in a new light." —BookPage"[Opens] our eyes to the glowing universe beyond." —San Francisco Chronicle"There's a haunting connection between trees and the night sky that brings a powerful charge to photographer Beth Moon's book Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees." —National Examiner"An ode to trees" —Pasatiempo, Santa Fe New Mexican"In delicately colored long-exposure images, old-growth trees frame skies that are bright with stars. From South Africa to California, Moon recorded baobabs, quiver trees, bristlecone pines, Joshua trees, sequoias and oaks, lit by the Milky Way and constellations in the Southern and Northern hemispheres." —Photo District News"Moon reveals a side of Earth that is majestic, awe-inspiring, and almost unbelievable ... Does this sort of raw, transcendent scene really exist? Yes. Moon considers ancient, undisturbed trees the way some trekkers see the Himalayas or astronauts see outer space: Visiting these areas is to witness firsthand a world that is prehistoric, almost pre-human." —SF Weekly"A vivid expression of the natural world's enduring beauty." —Atlas Obscura"It's easy to feel young when you're staring at 6,000-year-old trees set against the dreamy backdrop of billion-year-old starry skies. Maybe that's what Beth Moon was trying to do when she went on a globetrotting quest to capture the oldest and most awesome trees on earth." —Escapism"In Moon's beautiful shots, the Milky Way spills in a brilliant ripple across velvety skies." —Entertainment Weekly