Few humans ever see these amazing trees in real life. Their natural environments are hot, dry and hostile, yet the Baobab tree is one of the few plants that can exist and thrive under such harsh circumstances. To survive long periods of drought, their massive trunks can store as much as 26,000 gallons of water to keep the tree alive.

In some of the most arid and infertile regions of Africa, Madagascar, and Australia the Baobab tree grows to enormous size. These giants are one of the largest living things on the planet and have a potential lifespan of more than a thousand years (one is at least 1,250 years old). They are great friends to their human neighbors—providing an ever-renewing resource for textiles, netting, baskets and roofing. Their nutritious fruit has many medicinal properties.

I am intrigued by the role that these thousand year old giants play in the lives of their human neighbors. It is an enduring presence, perhaps older than the legends passed down from generation to generation, its roots deeply intertwined with daily life. The images in this series reflect both the resilience and transience of life. I often pair a Baobab with a person from the community: a grandmother, a grandfather, a young man, a young woman, a mother, a boy child, a girl child. My photographs celebrate an intimate co-existence. These trees were found in South Africa, Mali and Madagascar.

— Elaine Ling

Editor’s Note: We were saddened by the death of Elaine Ling in August 2016. She inspired us over and over again, and was a dear friend for many years.