Stephen Wilkes’s career as a photographer began as a teenager, photographing bar mitzvahs on Long Island. He was later mentored by legendary photographer, Jay Maisel. His early work on mainland China, California’s Highway One, and “Burned Objects,” where he melted everyday objects like coat hangers to create impressionistic images, established him as one of America’s most original photographers. A 5-year project begun in 1998 about Ellis Island, where immigrants were processed before they could enter the United States, further cemented his reputation. A monograph based on the work, Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom, was published in 2006 and was named one of TIME magazine’s 5 Best Photography Books of the Year. The project was also featured widely in the media, including on NPR and CBS Sunday Morning.
I try to push myself into areas that aren’t comfortable.
For his most famous project, “Day to Night,” which he began in 2009, Stephen photographed cities and landscapes all over the world using two cameras—one for day and one for night. One of his inspirations was British artist David Hockney, who would shoot hundreds of images of a single scene, then physically paste them together. To capture the ebb and flow of time, Stephen shoots as many as 1,500 photos in a 24-hour period in locations as varied as Wrigley Field in Chicago or a watering hole in the Serengeti. For the shoots, Stephen often uses a crane to get at least 50 feet (15 meters) above his subjects. While he's shooting, meals are brought up in a bucket and sleep is snatched in brief cat naps. Blending the images into a single photograph can take months.
“Day to Night” has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, as well as dozens of other prominent media outlets. With a grant from the National Geographic Society the project recently was extended to include America’s national parks in celebration of their centennial anniversary, and bird migration for the 2018 Year of the Bird. Stephen’s work has also appeared in and on the covers of leading publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair and Sports Illustrated. His pictures documenting the ravages of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy have heightened awareness of global climate change. Most recently Stephen directed Jay Myself, a documentary about his mentor, legendary photographer Jay Maisel, which will have a world premiere in New York City in 2018.
His photographs are included in the collections of the George Eastman Museum, James A. Michener Art Museum, the Jewish Museum of NY and many others. Stephen’s extensive awards and honors include the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography and TIME magazine Top 10 Photographs of 2012.
Stephen lives in Westport, Connecticut.