One of the most aesthetically complex and rewarding photographic projects of the last decade is Stephen Wilkes’s “Day to Night” photographic series. In Wilkes’s own words, he comments: “Day to Night has been a 10-year personal journey to capture fundamental elements of our world through the hourglass of a single day. It is a synthesis of art and science, an exploration of time, memory, and history through the 24-hour rhythms of our daily lives.”
In the 16th-century, a narrative landscape painting that much inspired and intrigued Wilkes at the age of fourteen, The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel, would rouse a question for the future photographer, “what exactly does art accomplish?”
Painting can be a vehicle with the ability to transport you to another world, transcending time and space. When a moving train in silent motion pictures replaced the still image, making crowds jump from their seats about a hundred years ago, there was a change in technology that altered our perception of reality. Stephen Wilkes’s work taps into this fascination, alluding to the almost magical possibilities of capturing a complex world with a camera. In a time when digital manipulation is often used to reshape reality in photographs, Wilkes’s meticulous capturing of light moving through the landscape, presenting a day in its entirety, elevates the potential of what is real. Most significantly, it gives the viewer a new way to perceive the passing of time and reality.
“… I wanted to hold time open for in-depth study and emotional connection.”
The renowned series, “Day to Night”, is Stephen Wilkes’ ongoing composite, panoramic, photographic project, extends its landscape profiles from the Blue Lagoon in Iceland to Ipanema Beach in Rio, Brazil. His composite photographs continue to capture the immense beauty of a location, narrating a myriad of events that occur within a single place. His work is imbued with a tonal lyricism that encapsulates the photographer’s voice. Within this aesthetic, Wilkes uses the historical references of Romanticism and Impressionism, especially the Hudson River School of painting. Stephen Wilkes presents a landscape experience with the enriched depth of painting and the mutability of contemporary technology.
“I photograph from locations and views that are part of our collective memory. Working from a fixed camera angle, I capture the fleeting moments in humanity and light as time passes. I’ll shoot anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 single images, and then (when I say this is not a time-lapse), it is me hand-cocking a lens. I photograph in the most traditional way, then select the best moments of the day and the night, I use time as a guide, and those moments are seamlessly blended into a single photograph. I’m visualizing our conscious journey with time.”
The Plein-air character of Wilkes’ work, it’s time-consuming commitment to recording time and to creating complex visual narratives of light and activity, are unique in their dynamic and expressive powers. Wilkes’ work is ultimately inspired by the world of fine art that records the emotion and ambiance of activities occurring in the landscape. His work does this while using 21st-century ideas to modernize and reaffirm an enchantment with the state of being alive.