Michelle Chandra's 'All Our Suns' Instagram Project Lets Us Watch Sunrises And Sunsets All Over The World

The opportunity to watch the sun rise and set from your favorite sun-viewing spots, perhaps sending photos to your loved ones who couldn't be there, is now less rare, thanks to Michelle Chandra's "All Our Suns" Instagram project. Chandra has aggregated photos with the hashtags #sunrise and #sunset into three displays of suns rising and setting around the world. One shows dots lighting up on a map to track when Instagram users post photos of sunrises and sunsets in different locations, another displays the photos themselves when you scroll over their locations on a map, and another features dots that light up when someone is posting a photo of a sunrise just as someone else is documenting a sunset.

Chandra's description of her project points out that our concept of time has drifted further and further away from direct observation of the celestial bodies it is based on:

Our notion of time has evolved with our increasingly finite abilities to measure and track time. Before the invention of clocks and mechanical time, we watched the sky and chased the sun, the celestial bodies’ irregular rhythms determining the hour.

This, though, was not enough and we eventually divorced timekeeping from the heavens, placing ourselves under the fixed watch of machine dictated time. As our ability to measure time has become more finite, our world too has become smaller and smaller, and our experience of time faster and faster.

She goes on to describe how time started off as a single, local measurement, but since globalization and the Internet have enabled communication between different time zones, we've become increasingly aware of time's relativity — not in an Einsteinian sense, but in a time-is-a-human-system sense: "Our absolute ideas of a fixed quantified time cannot escape the irregular rhythms of the cosmic world we call home," she writes. The title itself, implying that there exists more than one sun — at least as we know it — also reflects this relativity. Here are two of the maps:

The sizes of the dots above indicate how recently the photos were uploaded after the sun rose or set, so that the map represents not just the time itself but also intervals of time that have elapsed.

Chandra was inspired by Carl Jung's concept of synchronicity — "meaningful coincidences" — to create this map, which shows places where people have uploaded a sunrise and a sunset at the same time. She argues that technology has made humanity more synchronized:

We achieved a new kind of synchronicity and connectedness across space, divorced from the sun and the Earth's irregular rotation. Now as we move seamlessly between time zones, our only awareness of the sun’s hold on time are the photos we take of the sunset.

The third map, not embeddable but available on the "All Our Suns" web page, shows all the #sunrise and #sunset photos uploaded to Instagram in the past day. You can hover over any location to see the corresponding photo. By combining real images with the abstract symbolism of dots on a map, Chandra rejoins time with the natural events it has been divorced from.

Chandra, a graduate student at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, created "All Our Suns" as part of her larger series "All Our Yesterdays," which examines the passage of time using Instagram in several ways. The series also includes "Memory," a juxtaposition of Chandra's photos with other contemporaneous Instagram photos in the same places, and "Legacy," a comparison of her grandfather's old travel photos with Instagram photos.

Cumulatively, "All Our Yesterdays" shows how we piece together different images and memories to construct both our personal histories and human history, as well as how social media has affected this process. It makes us wonder whether all the technologies available to us for capturing moments in time have improved our memories or simply changed them. The answer given by "All Our Suns" is that there are endless ways to conceptualize time and space, and the Internet provides even more alternatives that are not right or wrong but useful and constantly evolving.

Images: All Our Suns