An observatory in the UK has shared what is believed to be the longest recording ever taken, over eight years.
But the photo, taken at the University of Hertfordshire’s Bayfordbury Observatory, was not taken with high-tech photography equipment.
Regina Valkenborgh, a graduate art student at the college at the time, just used a simple pinhole camera made from an empty beer can and some photo paper.
It shows 2,953 arcuate paths as the sun rose and set for 97 months between August 2012 and September 2020.
The dome of Bayfordbury’s oldest telescope is visible to the left of the photo, while an atmospheric portal, a structure built halfway through the exposure process, is visible to the right.
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Regina Valkenborgh’s pinhole camera remained untouched at Bayfordbury Observatory at the University of Hertfordshire for eight years and a month. Each of the 2,953 tracks in her photo represents the sun’s arc as it rose and set
Valkenborgh had experimented with pinhole camera techniques while obtaining her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Hertfordshire.
A pinhole camera is essentially just a light-tight box with a small hole on one side that allows sunlight to enter.
Due to a natural phenomenon called the camera obscura effect, light from the outside passes through the little ‘hole’ and projects an inverted image of what’s outside on the other side of the box.
The effect has been known for more than 1,000 years and was described in the 10th century by the Arab physicist Ibn al-Haytham.
Due to the ‘camera obscura’ effect, light passing through a small ‘hole’ in a light-tight box will project an inverted image of what is outside on the other side of the box.
Telescopes at the Bayfordbury Observatory at the University of Hertfordshire. The dome of Bayfordbury’s oldest telescope is visible in the photo from Valkenborgh
When photographic paper was developed in the 19th century, images taken with camera obscura could be converted into photographs.
“The most exciting thing for me is that this rudimentary way of photography still has value in this technology-driven era,” Valkenborgh told Motherboard.
“But in all its simplicity, it has the ability to ‘capture’ a photo that goes well beyond the slowest shutter speed you can set on a digital camera.”
‘The images are also completely unique: the light photons travel through the actual hole and hit the paper in the tin.’
In 2012, Valkenborgh placed a beer can with photo paper on one of the observatory’s telescopes.
The endeavor was largely forgotten until September, when observatory staff member David Campbell rediscovered it.
“It was a stroke of luck that the photo went untouched, only to be rescued by David after all these years,” said Valkenbourgh, now a photography technician at Barnet and Southgate College.
Most of her attempts at pinhole photography were ruined by moisture that caused the photo paper to curl.
“I hadn’t planned on capturing a recording for so long and to my surprise it survived,” she said. “It could be one of, if not the, longest exposures out there.”
Super long exposure photography is a kind of art form: In 2011, retired physicist Greg Parker used a pinhole camera made from an old tea box to capture the sky from June 21, the summer solstice, to December 22, the winter solstice.
Valkenborgh did the same to capture the sky over the observatory in the same timeframe in 2011.
“Dark holes in the daily arches are caused by cloud cover, while continuous bright spores record glorious periods of sunny weather,” she explained of the image, a solar photo. Of course, the sun trails start higher in June on the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The trails sink lower in the air as the December winter solstice approaches. ‘
Fall 2011 was one of the sunniest in British history, she added, as evidenced by the many bright arches in the bottom part of her photo.
In 2011, Valkenborgh used a pinhole camera to record the sky above the observatory for six months, from the summer to the winter solstice. ‘Dark holes in the daily arches are caused by cloud cover, while continuously bright tracks record glorious periods of sunny weather,’ she said
According to the university, German artist Michael Wesely is the previous record holder for the longest exposure image, with a photo taken over four years and eight months.
Valkenborgh’s record may not last forever: In 2015, conceptual artist Jonathon Keats announced plans to take a 1000-year exposure to describe a millennium of climate change in a Holyoke mountain range in western America. Massachusetts.
Small enough to hold in the palm of your hand, Keats’ Millennium Camera is made of copper to stand the test of time.
He hopes the project will encourage people to think beyond their own human lifespans to what geologists call “deep time,” the long periods of time when the world is changing on a massive scale.
His camera was placed on Amherst College’s Stearns Steeple, and the university has agreed to exhibit the resulting image at the Mead Art Museum in 3015.