"Millennium Camera" to take a 1,000-year long-exposure photo

"Millennium Camera" to take a 1,000-year long-exposure photo
The Millennium Camera sits on a pole on Tumamoc Hill, looking out over a neighborhood of Tucson, Arizona – where it will (hopefully) keep watch for 1,000 years
The Millennium Camera sits on a pole on Tumamoc Hill, looking out over a neighborhood of Tucson, Arizona – where it will (hopefully) keep watch for 1,000 years
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The Millennium Camera sits on a pole on Tumamoc Hill, looking out over a neighborhood of Tucson, Arizona – where it will (hopefully) keep watch for 1,000 years
The Millennium Camera sits on a pole on Tumamoc Hill, looking out over a neighborhood of Tucson, Arizona – where it will (hopefully) keep watch for 1,000 years

What did the spot of land you’re currently on look like 1,000 years ago? Well, people in the year 3023 might have the luxury of finding out, thanks to an art/science project called the Millennium Camera, which will take an extremely long-exposure photo of the Arizona desert.

The brainchild of Jonathon Keats, an experimental philosopher at the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts, the Millennium Camera is an intriguing experiment with a noble, if somewhat naive, goal. The device will take the world’s slowest photo over a full thousand years, providing future inhabitants of Tucson, Arizona with a time capsule of what’s changed and what hasn’t.

To project into the future, Keats looked to the past. The Millennium Camera’s design is that of a pinhole camera, the very first kind invented – coincidentally, around 1,000 years ago. It’s a copper cylinder with a thin sheet of 24-karat gold at one end, in which a tiny hole has been punched. Sunlight seeps through that hole and shines on a light-sensitive surface at the back, which has been coated in multiple thin layers of an oil paint pigment called rose madder.

The whole thing is mounted on a steel pole and pointed out over the desert towards a neighborhood of Tucson. The idea is that the controlled light exposure will slowly fade the pigment to different degrees – darker areas, such as the mountains, will fade slower than brighter areas like the sky. If all goes as planned, the end result will be a millennium-long exposure photo.

Of course, there will be a lot of movement in frame over 10 centuries, so it will invoke some squinting in the future humans (or their alien overlords). But, Keats says, that’s part of the charm – the most stable elements, like the scenery, will stand bold, while the changing objects, like buildings, will be partly transparent, based on how long they’re there. It’s kind of a comment on the impermanence of humanity, really.

“Let's take a really dramatic case where all the housing is removed 500 years in the future,” said Keats. “What will happen then is the mountains will be clear and sharp and opaque, and the housing will be ghostly. All change will be superimposed on one image that can be reconstructed layer by layer in terms of interpretation of the final image.”

All this, of course, relies on the camera staying still until the 31st century. That’s a lot of time for a natural disaster to knock it over, or for somebody to hock the copper cylinder. The area might be bulldozed to build an apartment block in 2245. Humanity could go extinct. Or even if it does survive, the experiment’s purpose could simply be lost to time, leaving our distant descendants scratching their space helmeted heads over an underwhelming image of abstract art.

Whether or not the Millennium Camera actually survives its namesake timescale, it’s not just intended to help our great-great-great (etc) grandkids to ponder the past – in the meantime it will also inspire people of the present to think about the future. The device is installed near a bench on a hiking trail on Tumamoc Hill, next to a sign explaining its purpose. Hikers could look out over the valley while they stretch and sip water, and wonder what the view would look like in 3023.

“Most people have a pretty bleak outlook on what lies ahead,” said Keats. “It's easy to imagine that people in 1,000 years could see a version of Tucson that is far worse than what we see today, but the fact that we can imagine it is not a bad thing. It's actually a good thing, because if we can imagine that, then we can also imagine what else might happen, and therefore it might motivate us to take action to shape our future.”

Keats plans to install other Millennium Cameras in the area, facing different directions, as well as in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, China and the Austrian Alps.

Source: University of Arizona

I like this idea, but why not install a battery of logarithmically scaled (time wise) cameras, say 10, 100, and 1000 years? This would not only engage humanity for the entire interim, but also create both a ten frame story board and 100 frame timelapse video of the scene. Better yet, also include a one year camera and sell the images to maintain awareness of the project and raise money for upkeep and the artists estate.
Stainless steel cylinder imbedded into the mountain, facing the other way.

The copper will corrode, and block the pin hole, post in steel will also not last that long.
One thing the pinhole version will lose is sequence. If houses or roads go away and then come back (and then go away again) there will be no real way to tell when during the thousand year interval those things happened.

Which is cool in some ways but useless in others. And of course a black-painted building that survives for 500 years will be completely eclipsed (ahem) by a white-painted one that survives for 100. (Or perhaps the other way round, depending on whether the image is negative or positive.
My money is angry-man-on-cocaine will smash said camera obscura in or around 7 months after its installed lol. 1000 years for ANYTHING to survive that we construct is an exercise in futility at best
Am I the only one who sees the flaw in the design?
An exposure shot will continue to let light in until the photo is nothing but pure white.
Unless what you meant was a time lapse video.
Let’s a see a shorter scale proof of concept first. How well do the designers understand the chemistry to know the exposure will even be viewable in 1000 years? (the survival of this thing, of course, being very low).
If I had a nickel for every NewAtlas article involving an interesting art/design project that hasn't gone through review by anyone with a modicum of engineering knowledge to survive in the real world...
@Fomdoo - Indeed. Why doesn't Newatlas get people who have at least *some* idea of the subject they are writing about to author their articles...?