A self-proclaimed collector of moments Stephen Wilkes, in his series entitled, “Day to Night,” masterfully captures the transition from day to night in one comprehensive image. He began the series in 2009 and has worked diligently to document some of the world’s most beautiful places. Having photographed the Tournelle Bridge in Paris, Stonehenge in England, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and the Serengeti in Africa, Wilkes has created a body of work that appeals to a collective memory. Using a 4×5 large format camera with a digital back and shot from a fixed perspective 40-50 feet above the ground, Wilkes creates images that are designed to emotionally and visually resonate with the masses.
Wilkes’ photographs are visually dynamic, embracing the life of a single location over time. To maintain continuity, his camera has to be completely still as he captures image after image to manifest not just a photograph but an experience for the viewer; constructing a composite picture that only exists in the final photograph. Wilkes, who was influenced by the photomontage work of David Hockney, discovered that by piecing together photographs that were shot over an extended period of time, he could make the passage of time visible in a two dimensional image. Using the tools of digital technology, Wilkes is able to proficiently craft images with the same concept but a different aesthetic. Over the course of 12-15 hours, Wilkes takes 1,200 to 1,500 pictures, narrows them down to about 50 in post-production, and seamlessly blends the different elements over the course of a day, constructing a time vector, drawing a line where day ends and night begins, while simultaneously developing a narrative in the process. His photographs are tangible memories that explore both time and space with the same science and passion that early foundation black and white photography explored movement.
In 2014, Stephen Wilkes spent 26 hours on a platform situated at a 45 degree angle, tethered to the side of a mountain in Yosemite National Park to photograph “Tunnel View,” where Bridalveil Fall meets the granite cliffs of El Capitan. Noted as the most challenging setup he has had yet, Stephen Wilkes stated, “Once I get infected, the sheer beauty of what I’m doing overtakes everything. Whatever my fear is, once I see the scene through the lens, everything changes. I become disconnected from whatever the physical reality is.” The inspiration for this photograph came from the painting by Albert Bierstadt entitled, “Yosemite Valley.” Scanning the photograph from right to left, the viewer can see the transition from dawn to dusk as the purple sky of morning meets the brilliant light of day that strikes the trees lining the valley. As the viewer’s gaze moves left, the moonlight subtly hits El Capitan just before the evening rain begins. The spectators who traveled to revel at the grandiose Tunnel View have become subjects in an in depth vision of humanity. By compressing time into a single moment, Wilkes is able to create a multitude of new human interactions within natural and urban landscapes and successfully captures how the color of light changes every hour.
Stephen Wilkes is a uniquely creative artist in contemporary photography. By utilizing the digital resources available today, he has developed a process that has expanded photography’s preconceived notion that a picture can only depict a singular moment in time and has opened up the possibilities of a fourth dimension of time and space.