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The Longest Photographic Exposures in History

A friend sent me a link to this photo here today. I have seen it a few times before and it was always (WRONGLY) claimed as being the longest exposure in photographic history. It was taken with a pinhole camera over a period of 6 months by a photographer called Justin Quinnell. It shows the traces of the sun over Bristol's suspension bridge during that half year period. Which is impressive and beautiful. BUT IT IS NOT THE LONGEST EXPOSURE.

The German photography artist Michael Wesely has created even longer exposures. Using large format cameras (4x5 inches) he captured the light of his objects for up to 3 years in monochrome or colour.

In 2001 he was invited by the Museum of Modern Art in New York to use his unique technique to record the re-development of their building. He set up eight cameras in four different corners and photographed the destruction and re-building of the MoMa until 2004 - leaving the shutter open for up to 34 months!

 

The sun traces in the sky give the images a beautiful, painting-like feeling. To me it is very surreal to see the movement of the sun - or more precisely the movement of the earth around the sun in such a way.

The photo below was taken over almost 14 months at the Leipziger Platz in Berlin - which at the time together with the Potsdamer Platz formed one of the biggest construction sites in the world.

I find incredible that you can actually see the passing of time. The older parts of the building that were exposed the longest appear darker and clearer. While the newer parts seem more ghost like. More than 2 years took it Michael to create this incredible time incapsulation at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin (below).

Wesely claims that he could do exposures almost indefinitely - up to 40 years! Now that's something I would love to see one day.

Here is another image he created. It is a one-year exposure of an office which he took from 29 July 1996 to 29 July 1997.

Here is another one of his mesmerising creations. I don't know exactly how long he exposed it, but I think it is totally beautiful too. The life and death of a bunch of flowers.

 If you are interested in his photographs you can buy his book he published a while ago.

OPEN SHUTTER by Michael Wesely

 

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Reader Comments (98)

If you count accidental photography 3 years is not the longest exposure. When I was a kid I saw a camera obscura room at a seaside resort. Many years later as an adult I wanted to see the camera obscura again but when I tried to find where it was I was told that it had been demolished a few years earlier. An old man I spoke to said when they got the viewing screen out in daylight they could see a faint image that had developed on it's surface clearly showing the hills and beach after an exposure of more than 20 years! I imagine that the old oil based paint of the time had darkened with age but been bleached by the sunlit image from the lens.

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLawry50

Like many other photographs that were taken with an unusual camera or lens, these ultra long exposures aren't much without their stories... as opposed to wonderful photos that tell stories, or are stories. It's pretty outrageous that man is able to go to the moon, but when all is said and done... who cares? These photos are all about technique, like in the early 80's when guys like Stephen Shore found that they could outspend everyone else and have gigantic(for the time) color prints made and WoW everyone into believing they were doing something important and great. I don't know... give me a small contact print by Josef Sudek or an 11X14 inch photo from The Americans. Looking at these images, one doesn't need to be told how they were made, by what camera, how long the exposure times were. Because they are just damn good. Go to the websites that showcase so many people pinhole camera images and you will be treated to thousands of great photos by people you never heard of and never will again maybe. Who really cares how long the piece of film was exposed?? Usually it's the people who are so good at making art.

October 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterroygump

roygump, though I didn't even read the text I fell in love with these pictures. I love their structures, lines and composition as well. I don't think it's about technique... they are beautiful for me without any explanation.

October 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZita

ZITA... I think that is great. Finding beauty is what it's all about after all.
rg

October 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterroygump

Nice pics. thanks for posting. I am also a professional photographer and had a new digital camera. Really i like these pictures. I always away from my city for the photographic.

November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAshutosh Ranjan

Where are all the people that have worked on these buildings the peoplethat rome the street? How did these pictures turn out so pure.

November 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBryan

So beautiful pics. Thanks for sharing your experiences here. I love to click photos through casio exilim camera.

November 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAshutosh Ranjan

To me the most interesting part should be the time when the photographer processing the film and photographs. You know your angles and perhaps imaging the result but only when u decided to stop and process then u eventually know what happen. I would be excited if I were him at that moment.

December 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAna

These are amazing! I love it... def inspired to play around with long exposure time now!

December 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlindsay aka @_thetraveller_

the picture inside the room felt real creepy, nontheless, all of these pictures are wonderful. I would not sacrifice my camere to leave it in exposure for that long. Thanks for the share

December 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfajas colombianas

very nice article, thank you for posting! i just put this link on my facebook site, i hope you don't mind :)

cheers from italy,
günther

December 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergünther pichler

it's interesting that they could keep the shutter open that long

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercasketsalesman

experiments in long exposure, the capture of light and opaque mass interplaying over macro-moments. a greater sum of vision than human beings are currently able to witness. truly awesome.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterstove repair

how stupid

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwtf

I'm amazed that no one kicked the camera over during a long exposure. Doubly amazed that all of you think this is so amazing. I will echo marc's sentiment on this.

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRick

If you like these then check out John Blakemore's photos of the wind. In woodland glades he has taken long exposures and multi-exposures. Anything static (tree trunks, stones) is pinsharp while grass and leaves show the passage of the breeze(s).

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBod

let me know more about this.

February 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergfdss

very interesting! I have been interested in long exposures and produced a some images with exposures up to a few hours but this is something else.

February 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjonathan owen photography

This is amazing!

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWaheed Akhtar

to McGivrer
pinhole technique is not as you have said 'one of the oldest human invention' but it is a natural phenomenon happening all around the world if right condition happen: dark cave, small hole that light can travel through....etc. In that case is should be said it is a discovery. We humans did not invent pinhole but discovered it and applied to our needs.

Anyway, pinhole photographs are great :)

April 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdaria

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