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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 (97)

@marc (mks43094@yahoo.com)

To me the beauty of these images lie in two facts:
The first one is a technical reason. I am amazed that Michael was able to achieve such an incredible long exposure without over-exposing the images. This in my eyes is down to a lot of of experimenting with the matter and the resulting experience. A truly great skill.

Secondly the results - the images - themselves - I truly find beautiful. I love seeing the bending lines of the sun over the sky. Lines that our normal eyes could in real life never perceive. It gives the images a special unreal and painting like feeling - but it is not drawn - it is still a photograph.

If you don't find it beautiful then I can't argue against that. And I don't want to convince you in any way. Of course it is your point of view and this is down to taste, and some people just have a different taste. Which makes out planet such an interesting one.

I just love seeing those images. Seeing how the buildings in their ghostlike manner "grow" into the sky. How I can see the flowers slowly die in one image - knowing that no advanced digital effects were involved - nothing else but simple hundred years old analogue photographic techniques.

July 30, 2010 | Registered Commenteritchy i

These images have a fake light writing.
In one way the use of a pinhole camera is cheep but doe´nt have a special advantage over tradicional lenses.
In the other "creative" part, the fact that in all images the light anulates the dark. This anulation takes away a big part of the image.
Investigations over photographic representations of long times periods, like multiexposure added, can give more information.
If a "sharp of mind" construction of the image by the photographer, you´ll get a better use of times representations.
Anyways this work has a documental information. Congratulations.
Escuse my bad english.

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergonzalo

Here is a URL to a photo of an Analemma, the position of the sun each day from a specific site. If nothing else, it is beautiful to see.

http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap020709.html

Brad

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Reid

@Brad - Thanks so much for your link. The image of the sun positions in the sky is totally beautiful. :)

July 30, 2010 | Registered Commenteritchy i

This is so spectacular. I am a beginning professional photographer and my boyfriend stopped me to look at this one day. I've seen very long exposures before but I love the way you put them together here with your helpful but not overbearing comments alongside. I think the passage of time is beautiful in the long exposure photographs. You could look at one for hours and still find things new and interesting about it.

Thanks again-

Shannon

Also, thought some of you might like this: http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/the-namib-desert-indoors-12

July 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

Sir jorge wrote:
"The whole "time travel" aspect could have been gotten by setting up a digital camera on a tripod, shooting an image daily and piecing it all together in Photoshop (which has been done to death)."

You would not get the same results like that. To capture the tracks left by the sun, and the illumination of the buildings from every angle of the sun every day requires a continuous exposure.

July 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEd_Grundy

Amazing ideaa!

July 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterelectric cigarette

I don't know if it is a shared feeling amongst all viewers of these pictures (most probably with the artists/photographers) but I find these shots astoundingly beautiful. There is something truly ghostlike and paranormal - very interesting to see time passing and yet standing still at the same... time. no pun intended!

July 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMoo

My favorite is that little library. Something strange and eerie about it. I'd love to have that in a frame on a wall in my study.

July 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Is it possible that the first photo is the longest exposure using color?

July 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkrooze

yes the flowers were lovely the table less so 7 and a half out of 10

July 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterguy

Awesome

August 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPutu Adi

i should add the bridge pic is wonderful

August 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGuy

@whoNose - I'm not sure who "mr wesely" is, but I feel you might be thinking of Hiroshi Sugimoto

August 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbryce

i cannot help but love this man and his work! and be very grateful to fleuri for introducing me to him and it!!!!!!!

August 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjwpenland

Wow, really interesting, I've done some long exposures but I reckon no more than about 30 secs using a Canon EOS 30D one of my efforts is here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluesoul97/2476839630/

August 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKenny Howse

I don't see the brilliance of setting a camera up and leaving it's shutter open for long periods of time. Conceptually somewhat interesting, however, the end results are not impressive.
I maintain that the 'passage of time' aspect, per marc's comment, could actually be achieved with a couple of photographs and some technical work with photo editors.

August 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Interesting post you have here. I didn't know that you could actually do camera exposures up to 40 years. These photos are proof of Wesley's Incredible effort!

Try that with an iPhone, fanboys!!

August 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteralex

Wesely's work is brilliant and inspiring. It has given me new ideas and helped open my imagination. Thanks for sharing!!!

August 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMusti Mohsin

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