Secret pinhole cameras to portray Berlin in 100-year exposure

BERLIN (Reuters) - An American artist is attempting to create a photographic portrait of Berlin that will capture the city over 100 years in a single shot from pinhole cameras in 100 secret locations.

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Conceptual artist Jonathon Keats’s ultra long-exposure project is meant to document changes in the German capital over the course of a century and prompt people to take responsibility for how the cityscape evolves.

“It’s a movie that’s being made in which the entire movie is in a single frame,” said Keats, who is offering volunteers one of his simple pinhole cameras in exchange for a 10 euro ($14)deposit.

Each camera holder is assigned a neighborhood but must then decide precisely where to position the camera. Keats suggests places that stand a chance of surviving, such as monuments.

The location must stay secret until the camera holder is old or ill and passes the information on to a new generation. People who return the camera in 100 years will get the deposit back and their photos will be put on display, according to Keats’s plan.

Elisa Brinkmann, from the gallery Team Titanic which is collaborating on the project, is one of about 50 people who have taken a camera, though she hasn’t hidden it yet.

“You hide the camera with a picture in your mind of what will be there in 100 years,” said Brinkmann. “For me, I just want to find a place where I can get the skyline somehow.”

Instead of using traditional film, the pinhole cameras, made of steel canisters, focus light onto black paper which will fade differently depending on where the light shines brightest.

A building that is already standing and survives 100 years will make a bold impression while one that is torn down over the coming century will appear as a “ghostly shadow”, Keats said.

The purpose is not so much to produce documentary images as to prompt reflection about how a city changes and surveillance - a sensitive issue in Germany since the excesses of the Nazi and communist secret police forces, and after revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The idea is trying to see a city from the distant future and, using that, to have an eye on the future, to see the city from a generation not yet born,” said Keats.

His earlier projects have included sitting in a chair in a gallery for 24 hours thinking and trying to genetically engineer God in a laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

He hopes to replicate the “Century Camera Project” in other cities including Cairo, Mexico City and Phoenix, Arizona.

The Team Titanic Gallery in Berlin expects to present the final images on May 16, 2114. Keats does not plan to attend.

($1 = 0.7357 Euros)

Editing by Stephen Brown and Michael Roddy