Immortality is Commonplace, 2020 –

Lichens, the symbiotical growth of algae, fungi and bacteria, become less likely to die as they grow older. Some examples in the Arctic region are estimated to be between 3000 to 8000 years old, making them one of the longest living organisms on the planet. They grow at exponentially slow rates and are usually among the first organisms to colonise landscapes after natural disasters, breaking down rocks and surfaces in order to make soil for other plants to grow. Lichens’ composite nature shows how it is collaborative effort rather than individuality that keeps ecosystems going.

The sense of urgency sparked by the looming ecological crisis allows us to see such organisms in a new light. Under stable conditions, they could far outlive current generations, and even photography as a medium. Yet, they are not immune to sustained environmental pressures caused by pollution. Lacking roots, lichens are particularly responsive to their surroundings, gathering most of their nutrients from air or water directly through their surface. This way, they offer far-off records of the composition of air, ranging back as far as the industrial revolution — they are a medium of their own. The fast pace of changing climate conditions could eventually lead to a permanent loss of lichens as vital actors in the global ecosystem. Photography, commonly defined as a practice that preserves life by representing it, is suddenly facing a new challenge. 

What does it mean to photograph something potentially immortal? The Earth has its own ways of storing information about the past which are more permanent and durable. Placing photography in the larger, nonhuman history of the world, alongside primordial processes such as fossilisation or the sun tanning our skin makes us wonder: who is recording whom?

Immortality is Commonplace investigates how photographing extraordinarily durable organisms in times of ecological instability challenges the notion of photography as practice that immortalises.

Above: Ankerwycke yew, Windsor, England. Estimated to be around 2500 years old.

Below: Cladonia cristatella, commonly known as the 'British soldier' lichen.

"The world will surely end, but it won't be the end of our troubles."

Alenka Zupančič, Konec (Ljubljana: Analecta, 2019) 

'Hunebedden', prehistoric tombstones in the province of Drenthe, Netherlands.

In conceiving this work, the following authors have served me as important references and inspiration: Joanna Zylinska, Timothy Morton, Tim Ingold, Alenka Zupančič, Scott F. Gilbert, Donna Haraway, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Katie Paterson, Graham Harman, Dan Zahavi, Carlo Rovelli, Bruno Latour and others. 

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