While Jonathon Keats has put a lot of thought and development into the creation of his "millennium camera," he will have long turned to dust before the world finally gets the chance to see if it actually works. That's because this pinhole camera, unlike traditional point-and-shoot varieties, is designed to take a 1,000-year exposure. Keats, a writer, philosopher and conceptual artist, says his creation is meant to inspire thought on deep time and our impact on the environment.
"The camera is intended, in a sense, as a mental prosthesis, as a way of creating some sort of a feedback loop in deep time, where setting up the camera now, looking out into the far future, allows for people who are alive in the far future to see the decisions we made through the effect that they had," he told the AP.
Keats has received permission to install his pinhole camera atop Amherst College's Stearns Steeple in June to record the changes taking place of the nearby Holyoke Mountain Range. The design is meant to be as low-tech as possible to survive a millennium of abuse. Not only is it made of copper to resist corrosion, but it also sidesteps the use of film in favor of a 16th century technique employing rose madder. This organic-based oil paint slowly fades over time when exposed to sunlight. The idea is that after 1,000 years, the full picture captured will present a visual amalgamation of our changing world.
A version of the pinhole millennium camera designed by Keats. (Photo: Jonathon Keats)
"Anything that stays in place will look sharp," Keats told Slate. "Anything moving quickly, like cars and people, won't show up at all. And anything that changes slowly, like a growing tree, will be ghostly. You'll also be able to see bigger changes, like the ghost of a house that’s been knocked down haunting the apartment building that takes its place. The picture will be less like a snapshot and more like a single-frame movie."
As for if the device will actually survive the next 10 centuries, he's realistic about his chances. "Most certainly the image won't work out, for thousands of reasons. There are many things that can go wrong."
Should some apocalyptic scenario lead to the demise of Stearns Steeple, Keats has a backup plan already in place. Earlier this year, another version of his millennium camera was installed on a third-floor terrace at the Arizona State University Art Museum and aimed at downtown Tempe. He's also not interested in patenting his device, saying he wants to give others an opportunity to copy his design (estimated to cost about $100 in materials) and place millennium cameras around the world. If 1,000 years feels too long, he also has a version of his 100-year camera available for people to try.
Check out a video of Keats discussing his long-term, long-exposure photography below. Both cameras are slated to be opened in 3015.