November 21, 2013
Batter up: Stephen Wilkes! http://www.stephenwilkes.com/
If it weren't for Stephen Wilkes, I would have given up photography a long time ago. I met Stephen at Syracuse University in my freshman year. We were both in the same graduating class, and had dual majors at The Newhouse School of Communications (photojournalism) as well as the School of Management. Interestingly, we came from the same hometown but didn't know each other because we went to different high schools.
Stephen was a superior photographer. His work as a freshman was outstanding and he clearly stood out not only among our class, but all classes. I was awestruck by his work and admired his dedication, knowledge and work ethic as a photographer. His artistic eye for light and composition was well beyond his years. We both had to start in black & white photography classes before we advanced to color. When Stephen began photographing color, his work exploded like a super nova. It was though he had been set free to explore his true talent.
I will always be grateful to Stephen for his encouragement, patience and guidance. I remember in our sophomore year, we found out that our favorite professor, "TR", was teaching the first semester of our junior year in London. A limited number of students would be accepted into the program and a portfolio review was required. Stephen encouraged me to apply. It was a miracle that I got accepted into the program and I always said I must have been the last one selected. Bob Sacha, Seth Resnick and Stephen Wilkes were among those accepted into the London program that semester and they all went on to become very successful photographers. There I was taking photography classes side-by-side these terrific photographers.
One day after our semester abroad when we were back in Syracuse, Stephen took a loupe and lingered over a slide of mine on the light box. He loved the image and was genuinely excited for me. I still remember the moment as if it were yesterday. His opinion meant a great deal to me and he gave me confidence. He was my very first mentor and to this day, I consider him among only a handful of people to have had such an impact on the way I see and photograph the world.
Soon after London, Stephen went to China. His work had taken another leap forward. Like any great artist's work, I still remember the images he took on that trip. He has since returned to China several times. Once again, he has so many great images to choose from but I love this one.
After we graduated, I continued to follow Stephen's progress and success. To no surprise, his images were magnificent. Time after time, he displayed beautiful examples of wondrous light with the color interpretation of an accomplished artist. His composition was always perfect; subject matter, light. color captivating the viewer to linger longer and enjoy the story or mood he was illustrating in a single image.
Let's fast forward to his book -- "Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom". The cover photograph...oh the cover alone is spectacular! This photograph lures the reader into his book to come visit this world. It feels as though you are literally walking into the book, back into history and another dimension of time. My words simply do not do this photograph justice -- you must see it for yourself.
The first time I carefully paged through this book, I could feel that Stephen had put his heart, soul and every ounce of his being into photographing this project. I was exhausted when I reached the last page. All I could think of was how deeply he immersed himself into this project because every one of his photographs told a story. Once again, each image so descriptive of a time and place in history. Stephen devoted himself and became completely absorbed by this project, in order for us to visually understand the history of Ellis Island. CBS Sunday Morning did a feature story on Stephen and his book on "Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom". Bill Bradley wrote the introduction. It's a "must have" book for any collector, serious photographer or historian.
Stephen has now taken on a colossal project: "Day to Night".
He photographs iconic areas from a bird's eye view in a bucket truck. Stephen is stationed in the sky for up to 15 hours straight; always looking, scanning the scene, and photographing from 1,200 to 1,500 individual frames. It may take him up to four months to carefully select images from that series, assemble the selects like little puzzle pieces and produce one complete image showing the transition from day to night. As Stephen says:
“It’s like a Rubik’s Cube in real time in my brain,” It's mind-boggling indeed! This concept is so unique, that the photographs must be seen in person, up close. It's remarkable that this idea can be accomplished at all, but once again, Stephen has shown us something we have never seen before. The photographs to the left are of Coney Island and Times Square in New York. Here is the link http://www.stephenwilkes.com/fine-art-gallery.php?g=7t=fineart to his website that showcases more of his "Day to Night" series.
To everyone in the world who thinks it's the expensive camera equipment responsible for great images, follow Stephen's photographic journal of pictures he takes with his iPhone. It's really incredible how Stephen's iPhone photos are little treasures of art. Even though he has worked with advanced photography equipment his entire life, Stephen reminds us all that no matter what camera you use, even if it's the camera on your phone, great photography is all about thoughtful composition.
Stephen's website is filled with photographic projects both personal and commercial; fine art and commissioned work. In addition to his photographs, it also includes: video clips, his numerous gallery showings, articles, and awards he has received over his accomplished career. You can also see the clips of his multiple appearances on CBS Good Morning showcasing his work on Ellis Island,
Hurricane Sandy and "Day to Night". By mere coincidence, as I am releasing my "Hero" story on Stephen, the November 25th issue of "Time" magazine has an 8 page layout of his "Day to Night" project. I encourage you to visit his website: www.stephenwilkes.com, go his gallery showings, purchase or study his books and enjoy the work of this remarkable photography master.