Stephen Wilkes is one of the most original, contemporary photographers on the international scene. He challenges our ideas of time and space and painstakingly constructs composite panoramic photographs that transcend the moment. After being commissioned for a shoot in 1996, Wilkes came upon a discovery that helped him develop a new way of seeing the passage of time. For his renowned series Day to Night, the photographer spends up to 30 hours perched at least 50 feet in the air, shooting over a thousand frames from the same vantage point, with the goal of preserving a location from morning to nighttime in the same image. The photographer’s time-defying series, whether set in Amsterdam, the Kumbh Mela Festival in India, or New York City, offer a view of interweaving experiences inclusive of all the ranges of atmospheric color, mixed interactions, and spontaneous magical moments that life can present in one day. With this series, Wilkes records living activity in our natural and human-made landscapes, and encourages us to pause, wonder, and become cognizant of our daily collective experiences.
In 1996, Stephen Wilkes was commissioned by LIFE magazine to take a panoramic shot of the cast and crew of the film, Romeo + Juliet. Once on location, Wilkes realized the set was square, prompting him to improvise for his shot. Influenced by previously studying David Hockney’s photographic collages, Wilkes decided to create a panoramic shot through different angles and later physically pasting them together to form a single image. With this technique, he was able to capture the lead actors, engaged in a hug in one shot and kissing in the reflection of a nearby mirror in another. It’s here that Stephen Wilkes begins to bend time and maneuver the narrative in a way that would transform his methodology and shape a future path towards his acclaimed series.
Stephen Wilkes’ Day to Night series challenges the notion that a photograph has to be a static, frozen instant. Wilkes composite photographs capture a full day in the life of a specific location; the pictures act as storyboards that reveal the varied possibilities and candid moments of each. Details of an entire day’s activities are visible all at once. The photographer chooses locations that are often recognizable and relatable. Places like Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge or famous world capitals all serve as well-known destinations that allow us to enter the photographs and consider our experiences within these contexts. The appearance of sunlight along with the night sky test our understanding of time and suspend a non-linear image into a dreamlike state, evoking a certain feeling of déjà vu in its presence and giving the work a degree of emotional resonance.
Stephen Wilkes’ photographs embrace a hyper-reality that presents human interaction and nature in all its complexity and richness, celebrating the dynamism and vitality of life. Wilkes’ profound commitment to his methodology ultimately turns photography on its head, re-creating a world observed into one image while offering a creative, dense visual text that magnifies the ordinary day and infuses the work with a magical, inspiring narrative.