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Researcher Installs Camera to Take Time-Lapse Photos for 1,000 Years. But Can it Last That Long?

The camera is the brainchild of an experimental philosopher and it will hopefully survive climate change and other hurdles to continue capturing images for the future.
Coevr Image Source: YouTube | ABC15 Arizona
Coevr Image Source: YouTube | ABC15 Arizona

Pictures are memories that are preserved as a way to look back in time and with time video archives have become essential tools of telling stories of the past to younger generations. Timelapse footage has been used to capture multiple pictures of the same place over a few hours, days or even years, to show a transition. Now Jonathon Keats, an experimental philosopher and a research associate with the University of Arizona, has created the Millennium Camera to take things to another level.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

According to IFL Science, the camera is going to take pictures over the course of a thousand years to record all the changes that the Tucson region of Arizona goes through. The camera built for an unprecedented project with a focus on the future, has a simple design with a pin-sized hole on a thin sheet of 24-carat gold through which the light enters. Then the light hits a small copper cylinder that rests on top of a steel pole and thin layers of the oil paint pigment called rose madder on the sides of the pole fade with the light.


The camera was installed next to a bench fixed at the Star Pass neighborhood in Tucson by the researchers from the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill. The placement of the bench against the camera will surely help visitors to sit down for a moment and ponder about the future. "One thousand years is a long time and there are so many reasons why this might not work," Keats said in a statement. "The camera might not even be around in a millennium. There are forces of nature and decisions people make, whether administrative or criminal, that could result in the camera not lasting."

If the camera manages to survive for 1,000 years, Keats has some idea about what it might show. The images will reflect the features of the desert landscapes where structures like hills would be sharply visible but there will be a blur on those images as well. The camera is not supposed to be opened before a thousand years. "If we open in the interim, then it diminishes the imagining that we need to be doing," Keats mentioned. He hopes that the camera will encourage people to make plans for the future, taking into account population growth and our relationship with the environment.


"Most people have a pretty bleak outlook on what lies ahead," Keats explained in his statement. "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." He also plans to install more cameras like this in Chongqing, China, Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and the Austrian Alps. "This project depends on doing this in many places all over the world," he said. "I hope this leads to a planetary process of reimagining planet Earth for future generations."

According to Smithsonian Magazine, the Millennium Camera in Tucson isn’t Keats’ first venture with experimental long-exposure photography. In 2014, the researcher worked with a team to distribute 100 cameras to residents in Berlin, instructing them to hide the cameras until 2114 for the next generation to retrieve. He has previously installed several other Millenium Cameras at Arizona State University in Tempe, Amherst College in Massachusetts, and Lake Tahoe in Nevada.

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