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Every possible photograph that could ever exist

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  February 27, 2013 02:18 PM

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Standard resolution for a digital camera these days is about eight megapixels. And each one of those eight million pixels has the potential to be thousands or even millions of different colors. You can probably see where this is going: By raising the number of available colors to the eight-millionth power, you can come up with the total number of different photographs that could possibly ever exist.

Which is just what artist Jeff Thompson of Lincoln, Nebraska is trying to do. He has created an installation titled "Every Possible Photograph" that, well, is on pace to display every possible photograph that could be taken. To do that, he's connected custom-designed software to a wall of monitors depicting exclusively grayscale colors that cycles through pixel-combinations at a rate of 200 to 300 images per second. That may sound speedy, but as Thompson explained to Fast Company Design, "Even this [grayscale] version will take approximately 46,138,562,195, 008,110,600,774,753,760, 087,749,172,181,189,607,929, 628,058,548,517, 099,604,563,033,706,075 years to complete," he explains. "By way of comparison, the universe is 13,770,000,000 years old."

Every Possible Photo.png

Image courtesy of Jeff Thompson.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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