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‘Millenium Camera’ set to take a 1,000-year long exposure picture of Arizona

A professor from the University of Arizona is hoping to capture the evolution of Tucson for the people of 3023

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Jonathon Keats envisioned the Millennium Camera, seen here peering across the desert landscape toward the Star Pass neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona.

Jonathon Keats envisioned the Millennium Camera, seen here peering across the desert landscape toward the Star Pass neighborhood West of Tumamoc Hill in Tucson, Arizona, to provide not only a record of the past for future humans but also to instigate discussion about what current humans can do to influence the future.

Chris Richards, University of Arizona

Experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats is attempting to capture history with the Millennium Camera: a camera designed to take an image of a Tuscon, Arizona landscape over the next thousand years.

The camera, as reported by the New York Post, overlooks a soon-to-be housing development in front of the mountainous range.

Keats, a professor at the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts, has stated the art/science project is an attempt to provide a time capsule for the people of 3023, of what has and has not changed in the Tucson landscape, per New Atlas.

“Most people have a pretty bleak outlook on what lies ahead,” Keats told The University of Arizona. “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.”

Keats and a team of researchers, according to Science Alert, installed the camera near a hiking trail overlooking Tucson, which is accompanied by a notice for onlookers to reflect on what the millennium may hold.

What is the camera and how does it work?

The Millennium Camera, according to New Atlas, is “a copper cylinder with a thin sheet of 24-karat gold at one end, in which a tiny hole has been punched.”

The pinhole camera gets exposed to sunlight, which shines onto a light-sensitive surface at the back of the camera, holding multiple thin layers of rose madder: an oil paint pigment.

The camera — mounted on a steel pole — controls reflected light exposure so that the pigment develops distinctions between surroundings, thereby resulting in pigment layers slowly forming features of mountains and skies, per The University of Arizona.

According to the New York Post, the practice has been known to exist as early as 500 BCE. Keats decided to use the antiquated technology because “nobody’s going to remember to change the batteries after 300 years if you have a digital camera (and) in 1,000 years people might not know how to develop a physical photograph.”

Keats is concerned of future humans not having the technical knowledge or products to process images from a conventional camera, which is why he is using the pinhole camera and sun-faded pigment, as reported by The University of Arizona.

The camera isn’t perfect — but Keats is hopeful

His project, although promising, has raised some concerns. The rose madder pigment used, per Science Alert, was only an educated guess by Keats, as he hopes it will leave an image via the pigment “fading in the repeated cycles of daylight.”

In addition, he admits there any multiple factors that can affect the camera’s imaging process, such as its removal from future generations, according to Science Alert.

Despite this, Keats is hopeful for the project’s outcomes.

“By no means is the camera making a statement about development — about how we should build the city or not going forward,” Keats said to The University of Arizona. “It is set there to invite us to ask questions and to enter into conversation and invite the perspective of future generations in the sense that they’re in our minds.”