Photographer Sets Special Cameras for 1,000-Year Exposure of Lake Tahoe

Tahoe Timelapse Project by Jonathon Keats

Pinhole view from Eagle Rock.

How will the Earth change over the next thousand years? That's just one question that experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats will answer with Tahoe Timescape. Using the longest of long exposures, four of Keats' specially developed Millennium Cameras will use a 1,000-year shutter speed to document the Tahoe Basin.

Keats first unveiled his Millennium Camera in 2015. It's a simple copper camera with a pinhole drilled through a 24-karat plate. “This camera becomes a way for us to see ourselves from the far future, to reflect on the decisions that we make, but also it becomes a way to coalesce around a project in deep time,” Keats wrote at the time of its unveiling. “Can we, as a society, work with and around a project like this?”

Now, thanks to Tahoe Public Art, Keats is putting his invention to the test. Over the next 1,000 years, the Millennium Cameras will have their eyes on the environment, documenting every change—for better or worse—that is coming our way. Keats specifically chose the Tahoe Basin because it's an environmentally sensitive area that is undergoing development, which he's been witness to during his periodic visits over the past few decades.

Millenium Camera by Jonathon Keats

Millennium Camera

“Many of the challenges we face as a society today can be seen on and around Lake Tahoe,” Keats tells My Modern Met. “By bearing witness over the long term, we may not only be able to provide a record of our stewardship to future generations, but also to influence that stewardship by providing a thousand-year perspective on the impact of our present-day actions.”

In preparation for the project, Keats conducted site surveys with landscape photographer Ryland West. West documented all four vantage points by taking traditional landscape photographs as well as digital pinhole photos to give an idea of the type of imagery that could be expected. Thinking of the endgame, Keats has also booked an exhibition space for 3018—talk about planning ahead!

Informative plaques are set up by each Millennium Camera to explain Tahoe Timescape. The cameras are visible at the following locations: Heavenly Mountain Resort (South Lake Tahoe, NV/CA), Eagle Rock (Homewood, CA), Lake Tahoe Dam (Tahoe City, CA), and Sand Habor, NV.

These landscape and pinhole photos around Lake Tahoe demonstrate how the environment looks today and the type of photo compositions we may expect from the Millennium Camera.

Tahoe Timelapse Project by Jonathon Keats

View from Eagle Rock

Tahoe Timelapse Project by Jonathon Keats

View of Sand Harbor

Tahoe Timelapse Project by Jonathon Keats

Pinhole view of Sand Harbor

Tahoe Timelapse Project by Jonathon Keats

View of the Tahoe Dam

Tahoe Timelapse Project by Jonathon Keats

Pinhole view of the Tahoe Dam

Jonathon Keats: Twitter

All photos by Ryland West, courtesy of Tahoe Public Art. My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Jonathon Keats.

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Trashcans Converted Into Working Pinhole Cameras

How the Development of the Camera Changed Our World

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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