100 Cameras Will Photograph Berlin with Ridiculous 100-Year Exposure Times


Long exposure photographs are usually measured in seconds or minutes. Use solargraphy, and you might measure in months or years. The longest we’ve heard of so far are photos spanning decades.

Well, those exposure times are relatively short compared to Jonathon Keats’s “century cameras”: they’re specially designed cameras that will take 100-year-long exposures!

On May 16th, 2014, Keats will be unveiling the cameras he designed to capture the slow, gradual change of cities. 100 of the cameras will be hidden throughout Berlin, Germany, and will be retrieved once the exposures are complete in 2114. If everything goes according to plan, the images will be exhibited that summer.

Future viewers of the images will be able to see urban development and decay over the span of a century captured in single frames.

In one sense, the project is meant to be a commentary on the ubiquity of surveillance cameras. Keats states that, “The first people to see these photos will be children who haven’t yet been conceived. They’re impacted by every decision we make, but they’re powerless. If anyone has the right to spy on us, it’s our descendants.”

The new cameras are based on traditional pinhole cameras. “My photographic time capsules are extremely simple, since anything complicated is liable to break,” says Keats. Pulling off a black tab on each device will start the exposure.

An early copper prototype of the camera.

An early copper prototype of the camera.


The pinhole on each device focuses light onto a black sheet of paper inside. Over the decades, the light will slowly cause the paper to fade where the intensity is brightest. At the end of 100 years, a unique positive image will have developed on the “film.”

Since the exposure will span such a long period of time, the photos will reveal how locations evolve. “The photograph not only shows a location, but also shows how the place changes over time,”Keats says. “For instance an old apartment building torn down after a quarter century will show up only faintly, as if it were a ghost haunting the skyscraper that replaces it.”

Placement of the cameras will be crowdsourced. Visitors of the project launch on May 16 will be able to pay a €10 deposit to take one home. They can then hide the devices in whatever location they feel is “worthy of long-term clandestine observation,” and are expected to keep the locations secret… until old age.

An example photo showing how one of the cameras might be placed.

An example photo showing how one of the cameras might be placed.

At the end of their lives, the participants are asked to reveal the secret locations to a child of that day. The system will (hopefully) ensure that in 2114, there will be one living person who knows the location of each camera. The exhibition is scheduled for May 16th, 2114 at the Team Titanic Gallery in Berlin (which is cooperating with Keats on this project).

An example of an urban view that might be captured by the camera.

An example of an urban view that might be captured by the camera.

Keats knows that he won’t be around to host the grand opening of the exhibition, but he says he doesn’t regret it at all. “For me, it’s much more interesting to be here today, seeing the behavior of people who know they’re being watched by the unborn, and also to be watched myself, living vicariously as a future memory of the 22nd century.”

  • DafOwen

    Sceptical for several reasons….

  • superduckz

    Meh… A garden should be tended otherwise you get weeds. How about finding a few suitable location and doing a series of exposures for a lifelong timelapse and then in old age passing it on. This is highly unlikely to succeed.

  • Jim Campbell

    So many problems here. I wish Mr Keats all the best though.

  • sascharheker

    They could document the construction of the new airport!

  • Andy Austin

    Very cool… in theory. But between most people forgetting a 100 years down the road as well environmental factors I just don’t see this working. What happens if a rain storm washes it away? Or as population increases so does housing. Therefore the cameras might get properties put right on top! I could go on… but I wish them the best of luck. I’ll be most likely dead by time they unveil them anyway ;).

  • No way Jose

    Implying it will be done before 2114 …

  • sascharheker

    I never said there would be a single plane in the picture! :o)

  • William Dyer

    Given that the exposure needs to be about 100 years, only those buildings that remain in place for that time will show on the exposure. All other changes will be underexposed at best, IIRC. From my experience in making crowds disappear from shots of architecture with 20-60 second exposures, I suspect many of these cameras will have little on the film if change occurs with any regularity.

  • Zack Deal

    Got my aperture set to f/9000 lets shoot this long exposure!

  • james

    Where did you get that the exposure needs to be 100 years? That is your assumption, and an incorrect one. Do you think the example photo given was exposed for 100 years?

  • james

    In 100 years the moisture in the air will be enough to destroy the paper completely….unless it’s a very special paper (that’s not made out of paper!)…no details given about it apart from it being a direct positive paper.

  • Shawn Niebruegge

    the great thing about this project is that even though you know there is no way it can possibly work, you’ll be dead when its done and no one can laugh in your face.

  • Matt

    Thats what the article is saying, 100 year exposures. Where do you see that it is anything different?

  • james

    No, the article is not saying that! It’s not saying that the exposure NEEDS to be 100 years, that’s just the plan. Do you seriously think that the image on the paper will be 1 stop under-exposed after 50 years! I suggest you go and learn something about solargraphy. You can have an image after a day, or keep going for months or years. It’s the same here. It doesn’t need to be 100 years!

  • John R
  • Matt

    Yes, that is exactly what it is saying, they are planning on leaving the cameras for 100 years. That is a 100 year exposure. You are familar with the process and you are putting your own knowledge into it and making assumptions and completely missing what the OP is stating.

  • james

    So what assumptions did I make?
    They are planning 100 year doesn’t say anywhere that the exposure needs to be 100 years…only the o.p said that, that is my point. Why don’t you read it again, the o.p is assuming the paper will be sufficiently exposed in 100 years, that is just not true, it will be sufficiently exposed long before that.

  • junyo

    This isn’t so much “photography” so much as “selling tin cans with a piece of paper inside to hipsters”.

  • dan110024

    Care to share such reasons?

  • dan110024

    They already linked to that in the article :)

  • Don Graham

    I have just one comment “Insects”

  • Bob

    So, he’s counting on a gallery named Titanic to be still up and running in 100 years?

  • Duncan Waldron

    James: the text says “a black sheet of paper”, which I take to mean they won’t be using photographic paper, just ‘ordinary’ paper that will fade with exposure to the light. How ordinary the paper, I don’t know. With ordinary newsprint, it might turn yellow after a year, but perhaps even something like Canford paper will fade after a century.

    I too wonder about how many locations will have disappeared, taking the cameras with them, but you could say the same about any project for the future. I wish them good luck with the results in 2114.

  • james

    I’m pretty sure the paper needs to be light sensitive, ordinary paper will not produce and image.

  • JustFedUp86

    I see plenty of reason for this to fail, and none where it could succeed:

    The “cameras” appear to be simple tin plated containers, either copper or pot metal. They will corrode and rust.

    The pinhole is simply punched in front; it will let moisture in even if just humidity, and can be closed up by oxidation. Think of those long hot summers or freezing winters.

    There’s no mounting; it either sits there or is wedged in place—-for a century. By people just picking a spot.

    It’s crowd sourced and depends on people bother to tell “a child” and in the end someone in 2114 deciding to pick them all up.

    I can’t see this working, maybe as is for a year long project with probably half the cameras returned, or a decade or two if the city government was involved to check on the cameras periodically.

    It’s even money if this is an attention getting stunt or truly misplaced idea, but I can’t see how it will work.

  • ThatsWhatItIs

    Ding! Ding! Ding! Folks, we have a winner!

  • Peter Claas


  • Duncan Waldron

    But you know that many dyes and pigments – such as those in black paper – will fade with exposure to light…? That would seem to be the mechanism they’re depending upon in this project. Heck, I might even try with ordinary newsprint for, say, a year, and see what happens.

  • Matt

    No, the OP did not say that all attemps at this need to be 100 years. His reference was clearly to this particular instance, that they wanted 100 years. So, clearly they need 100 years. He clearly states that only subjects that are in once place for a significant portion of the exposure will show up. Which is true. He did not state that it would be 50% exposed at 50 years. His point was that the exposure time may be too long to catch changes on a shorter intervel, he did not say anything about under exposure.

  • flightofbooks

    In what way?

  • flightofbooks

    Yeah, it seems like professional site design and placement is crucial. It’s a bit odd that they’re just giving them to people to do whatever. I wonder how accurate the reporting here is.

  • Gene Warren

    What there is to be gained by saying “that won’t work because x/y/z” is that perhaps it can be made to work by accounting for those factors. A good fraction of the comments here aren’t saying the idea is ridiculous, they’re saying from what’s been shared here it seems like the artist needs to make a few changes to give his project the best chances for success.

  • Gene Warren

    The artist/gallery’s site is rather short on information, but if the cameras and the distribution plan really is that simple, the project’s probably as much a performance art piece getting the participants to think about persistence, perspective and surveillance as it is about what salvageable images there’ll be in 100 years.

  • Duncan Waldron

    Fair comment, Gene, if it’s constructive criticism, but comments like “nonsense” and “selling tin cans with a piece of paper inside to hipsters” add nothing to the debate. But I guess that’s the nature of the internet :-/ I also felt that folk were missing a point about the material being used, and reading things into the commentary that hadn’t been said.

    As member of an innovations partnership some years ago, I was always the hard sceptic. When a new idea was suggested, I’d vigorously pick holes in it and pour cold water over the idea to find out where the leaks were, while everyone else was seeing only the plus points.

    I’m sceptical about its potential for success too, while fascinated by the idea and potential for a result.

  • AceStar

    The article says it will be 100 year long exposures. And if you do a google search for century camera project pretty much all articles say this.

    I heard this artist on the radio and while he was pretty vague and strange I don’t think the actual point is to capture 100 year long exposures but more to take a photo then hide that photo for 100 years.

    A 100 year long exposure just doesn’t seem technically viable, either.