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The Millennium Camera in Tucson: Capturing a City’s Evolution Over 1,000 Years

The ‘Millennium Camera’ in Tucson: Capturing a City’s Evolution Over 1,000 Years

For the next millennium, the Millennium Camera will monitor Tucson, encouraging passersby to pause and contemplate what the future holds. Its design allows it to capture permanent changes in the environment with greater clarity, projecting these images to the year 3024.

1000 year camera Arizona
Photo: Lens Font

This innovative device, called the Millennium Camera, was conceived by experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, an associate researcher at the University of Arizona’s College of Fine Arts.

Keats, along with a team of researchers from the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, installed the camera next to a west-facing bench overlooking the Star Pass neighborhood. The bench invites walkers to pause, while the camera inspires them to imagine the future, said Keats.

How Does the Millennium Camera Work?

The Millennium Camera is a pinhole camera, a simple type of camera that uses a small aperture instead of a lens to project images onto a light-sensitive material inside. However, unlike conventional pinhole cameras that can take several minutes to capture an image, Keats’s design aims to extend this process over a much longer period.

This is achieved through a mechanism that blends technology and art, using a copper cylinder mounted on a steel post with a tiny aperture that allows light to reach a surface coated with rose madder oil paint. This material was selected for its ability to gradually change under sunlight exposure, with the hope that it will retain a revealing image of Tucson’s landscape and architecture over the next millennium.

The camera’s operation ensures that permanent changes in the environment are recorded with greater clarity, while more transient elements appear almost transparent in the final image to be revealed in the year 3024. Beyond being a mere capturing device, the Millennium Camera serves as a call to reflect on the legacy and decisions that will shape Tucson’s potential evolution or disappearance.

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Photo: Smithsonian Magazine
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