Space & Innovation

Millennium Camera Set for 1,000-Year Exposure

Art-meets-science installation designed to spark conjecture on ecology, civilization and deep time.

In our era of instant digital photos and disposable everything, conceptual artist Jonathon Keats has decided to slow things down. Way down.

On Friday, Keats unveiled his new Millennium Camera installation -- a pinhole camera designed to track changes in the Arizona skyline over the next 1,000 years.

The project is literally an exponential expansion of his previous Century Camera project, which deployed cameras made for 100-year exposures in several cities around the world.

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Keats, who has been famously termed a "poet of ideas" by the New Yorker, specializes in these kinds of art-meets-science conceptual pieces. The idea behind both the Century Camera and Millennium Camera project is to spark thinking on environment and habitat, and the long-term impact that our choices will have on the lives of future generations.

Keats' devices, which he designed himself, are based on the traditional pinhole camera, but crafted to be radically simple and durable. The solid metal camera uses oil paint instead of traditional film, with light coming in through a pinhole in a plate of 24-karat gold.

Over the years, the light fades the colored pigment, creating a positive image. "For instance, old houses torn down after a couple centuries will show up only faintly, as if they were ghosts haunting the skyscrapers that replace them," Keats says.

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In an email to Discovery News, Keats said that the intent of the Millennium Camera is slightly different than that of the Century Camera -- but both are built to last: "With a thousand years in view, the documentation will have less to do with urban development and will be more concerned with the changing environment. In other words, the photographs will show how our future climate transforms our terrestrial habitat."

The exhibit will be installed on the museum's third-level terrace, where museum visitors will be able to see both the device itself, and the skyline view of Tempe, Arizona, which the camera will capture with deep time focus.

If all goes well, the museum plans to unveil the photograph in a month-long exhibition scheduled for Spring, 3015. See you there.

An image of conceptual artist Jonathon Keats' Century Camera, modified with an antique traditional camera. Keats' new project, the Millennium Camera, is designed to capture images over the course of 1,000 years.