August 29, 2023

Camera on Tumamoc Hill will document the next thousand years of Tucson history

Jonathon Keats chose Tucson as the next site for his unprecedented Deep Time photography project.

Tucson from Tumamoc Hill Looking east towards downtown Tucson from Tumamoc Hill. From January 2022.
AC Swedbergh/AZPM

Experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats is taking photos of the world that we will never see. Neither will our kids, and most likely our kids’ kids will not see them, either.

Keats is placing cameras around the globe, from Tucson to Lake Tahoe to even the Austrian Alps. The simple pinhole cameras will sit for a thousand years developing a single image.

An exposure this long has never been attempted before.

The latest camera was installed on Tucson’s Tumamoc Hill in July. Light will enter the camera through a pinhole and slowly form an exposure of Tucson’s environmental change on a special pigment.

Keats says the image will document the next thousand years of Tucson history and the Sonoran Desert for future generations.

To explain what the image might look like, he asks people to imagine a decision made 300 years in the future to fill the Tucson skyline with skyscrapers, where houses used to be. In the resulting image, both houses and skyscrapers would be cast in a layered double image.

“What was there for longer, would be more bold, what was there for a shorter span would be more ghostly. What is changing constantly would be a sort of a blur,” he said.

Keats admits that the project will outlive him by hundreds of years, and there is no guarantee that the camera will succeed. But he says it doesn’t matter whether the camera sees just 100 years, 500 years, or the full millennium.

He sees the cameras as a way of communicating with the future. Keats also says getting people to understand their impact on the future can help them think critically about their behavior in the present.

“But what if it were to be the next generation watching you? What sort of paranoia might that instill? And could it actually be productive? Could it be positive?” he said.

By posting comments, you agree to our
AZPM encourages comments, but comments that contain profanity, unrelated information, threats, libel, defamatory statements, obscenities, pornography or that violate the law are not allowed. Comments that promote commercial products or services are not allowed. Comments in violation of this policy will be removed. Continued posting of comments that violate this policy will result in the commenter being banned from the site.

By submitting your comments, you hereby give AZPM the right to post your comments and potentially use them in any other form of media operated by this institution.
AZPM is a service of the University of Arizona and our broadcast stations are licensed to the Arizona Board of Regents who hold the trademarks for Arizona Public Media and AZPM. We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples.
The University of Arizona