Photographer Creates Cameras for 1,000-Year Long Exposures

Photographer Creates Cameras for 1,000-Year Long Exposures

An artist and philosopher created special cameras to document the next 1,000 years of environmental change.

Experimental philosopher and artist Jonathon Keats designed four of these unique pinhole cameras that will produce four images, each with a 1,000-year long exposure. They will be installed around Lake Tahoe, CA to capture how climate changes alter the scenes. Although we will all be long gone by the time the images are complete, Keats signed a contract with Sierra Nevada College to exhibit the four time-lapse images in the year 3018.

Photo by Ryland West, Tahoe Public Art

The copper pinhole cameras are surprisingly only a few inches long. They work by very slowly imprinting a positive image on to a rose madder pigment. Light comes into the camera through a pinhole on a plate of 24-karat gold. In order to ensure the cameras and images would last, Keats studied the use of copper for longevity in Renaissance paintings. 

The unique millennium cameras took years to design and create, but the Tahoe Timescape project is finally ready to unveil and soon install them with the help of Tahoe Public Art. They are currently on display at Nevada College's Tahoe Gallery before being installed on all four sides of Lake Tahoe for the next 1,000 years. 

Images used with permission of Jonathon Keats.

Log in or register to post comments


Am I reading this correctly? A single,1,000-year long exposure? Not a timelapse? I suppose it has value from the development angle but the final image will be rubbish.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Not if the tripod is steady enough. And the calculations were correct. And we are still around. ;)

I wasn't referring to exposure or stabilization. If you look at the year-long exposure, Mark linked to below, and multiply that by 1,000, you can get an idea of the "muddy" mess, I'm envisioning. And then, how would anyone be able to disassemble it by year, or even century!?

William Faucher's picture

I agree, there's so many factors that will make this more than just a blurry mess, there quite likely won't be any distinguishable landmark. 1000 years ago, Vikings were only just starting to arrive in America. Not a single city was established in the new world. Mountains change, trees grow and fall. I wouldn't even be surprised if the water level rose to an indistinguishable level. 1 year, 10 year exposure, fine. Those could be cool, and realistic, and the artist himself is still around to see the result.

But 1000, what is even the point? Hoping someone discovers it in the future, not knowing what they have found, cracks it open, and effectively destroys the exposure anyway?

Please do enlighten me, I am eager to hear some valid points in favor of this.

Clearly, after 1000 years, the picture will be absolute crap. It will be impossible to distinguish a single element from the landscape after 1000 years of changes.
I think this project is more philosophical than anything else.

If the purpose was really to document the landscape changes caused by climate change, time-lapse photography is the only way to go. It could be a 1000 pictures time-lapse. One picture every year.
Or even one 1 year exposure, each year for 1000 years, that could be cool.

But, as it is, I think Google Maps will make a much better job at documenting changes over time.

Spy Black's picture

Aliens will easily decipher what went wrong...

Andrzej Muzaj's picture

I'm so curious about the results. Can't wait!

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Very cool! There was a photographer here in Toronto who shot year-long images.

David Butterell's picture

A guy in the UK created a successful Kickstarter project to mass produce solargraphy cameras:

Neat idea.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Wow the result of this is amazing Mark, thanks for sharing!

John Horwitz's picture

Archaeologists won't know what it is and it will be placed on a shelf in a museum and forgotten!

Jonathan Brady's picture

There's absolutely zero chance this actually turns into an image, much less four of them. Not without one thousand years worth of maintenance.
There are entirely too many factors which could impact the camera and the exposure negatively. Whatever it is mounted to could simply fall over. A tree would be an obviously poor choice because it'll be dead in 1,000 years. A pole? Erosion could take care of that. Or a falling tree. Or a pissed-off black bear. A bird could land on it and crap on the pinhole.
If you put it low to the ground it could easily become a toy for a bored animal. Or, Shrubbery could grow around it. Rising water could submerge it. Tectonic plates could shift and turn the area into a giant crater. New geologic formations could crush them. Shifting sand, dirt, and debris could also cover them.
Hell, we could have screwed up the Global Climate so bad by then that we've thrown most of North America into an ice age and these things are buried under 200 feet of ice. Then, when the ice melts in a couple million years they get dragged back up into what is currently known as Alaska.
So, 1,000 years of maintenance, plus a little good luck and the continued existence of the human race, or this project is doomed from the start.

"A bird could land on it and crap on the pinhole." I LOLed!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Lol! Hopefully, someone will be monitoring it and keeping it clean if needed.

I like this idea, but, well the images produced are not going to have much going for them other than their history.

Steve Gould's picture

What, exactly, is an 'experimental philosopher'?

John Horwitz's picture

A very good question, Steve: Experimental philosophy is an emerging field of philosophical inquiry that makes use of empirical data—often gathered through surveys which probe the intuitions of ordinary people—in order to inform research on philosophical questions.

There is only one problem with this definition, and it revolves around the first philosophical argument and the first philosophical question; The first philosophical argument is "Is there one thing that we both can agree on? If there is agreement, the discussion moves to defining terms used in the questions that follow An example of the first philosophical argument would be(Do we believe that Hitler had no redeeming value, and if he did not, was he therefore pure evil?" The next is the first philosophical question "How much is enough"?

Experimental Philosophy may be considered flawed or at best a pseudo-science, as it relies on ordinary people to test an hypothesis.

From American Public University Systems:

{A hypothesis is an educated guess or prediction about the relationship between two variables. It must be a testable statement; something that you can support or falsify with observable evidence.

The objective of a hypothesis is for an idea to be tested, not proven. The results of a hypothesis test can demonstrate only whether that specific hypothesis is or is not supported by the evidence. But, when many studies produce similar outcomes, then together they may suggest a theory for the phenomenon under investigation.

A theory is a well-established, tested explanation that provides a unified description of some aspect of the natural world. A theory is based on substantiated data, repeated testing, and the consensus of a wide group of scientists/researchers.}

Mr Keats has some interesting ideas, but I think of X-Phi more in terms of my college days when my fellow band of starving artists solved the problems of world affairs with the help of Annie Greensprings!

How the fuck is a single exposure going to show a data for climate change?!?! I thought we only had like ten years left here anyways... 18 years ago... sometimes I truly feel like climate change (used to be global warming) only exists for research funds and good feels.

Michael Holst's picture

What else do you feel sometimes?

Tim Ericsson's picture

Good thing the data doesn’t give a rats ass what you feel

I believe only a millennial can operate this camera.

Geoff Thompson's picture

I often enjoy the photography of Matthew ,Mark, Luke and John and Colleagues. They captured word pictures that we are still looking at. Well some of us. That was over 2000 years ago. This is an amazing idea but I am not smart enough to work it out. I read once how some scientist believe that rocks recorded sounds in the past and someday we might be able to listen to ancient conversations. What we can imagine can come to pass.Now where did I read that? We need a back to the future movie here created by some of our time lapse people. This idea might work better if fstoppers members committed to passing on their images taken in the same place for the next 1000 years.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Same here, I don't quite understand how it will work or turn out, but I hope it does! That would be a cool project for the community!