Perhaps iconic city pictures wasn’t what the poet Walt Whitman had in mind when he said, “To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.” Nevertheless, this quote appears early on in the new Stephen Wilkes coffee-table book, Day to Night, as a prelude to the unprecedented work, all by the American photographer, photojournalist, and fine artist who is wildly innovative and devoted to his craft. Taschen released the vibrant tome this summer and its supernatural panoramas are the definition of eye candy.
Over more than a decade, Wilkes has been on a journey to capture bustling major cities, deserted but for wildlife landscapes, popular destinations, historical landmarks and more in a completely unique way from most. His technique—which results in highly crafted images that show the passage of time over the course of a full day—begins with setting up his camera at a fixed angle and spending the day (even up to 36 hours) clicking off some 1,500 single frames. Wilkes then chooses the best day and night shots to blend seamlessly into one, producing among the most profound city pictures imaginable.
In Wilkes’s words, it’s a “visualization of our conscious journey with time.” He likens the practice to a meditation, one that zooms in on endless life narratives of the passersby whose actions wind up frozen in time through his lens. Author Lyle Rexer writes text that accompanies each one of a kind compilation, which give the viewer all-new perspectives on places as diverse as Coney Island, the London Eye, Miami, Tel Aviv, Red Square, and Wrigley Field.
When shooting the Eiffel Tower in 2014, Wilkes mounted a 40-foot lift truck for 18 hours in inclement weather. He slept at the top of a watchtower during a 36-hour shoot at the Grand Canyon in anticipation of the one perfect hour the moon would light his subject. His look at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is as otherworldly as the silica- and sulfur-rich water and the famed northern lights. In Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, during a drought, the photographer followed muddy zebras to a watering hole where he spent 26 hours in a crocodile blind, recording a veritable Noah’s Arc of wildlife throughout the day. On Steeple Jason in the Falkland Islands, where few humans have ever been, Wilkes witnessed an incredible number of black-browed albatross, a bird that has the same mate for life.
Some of his works—for example Trafalgar Square, where a tiny couple hug as blue skies become midnight, and Vatican City, which features the pope 10 times—are like a Where’s Waldo. It’s finds like these that motivated Wilkes’s labor of love. The photographer says, “I’ve always been drawn to art where the more you look at something, the more you discover.” And there’s plenty of that in this novel volume.