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Stephen Wilkes

Arts / Music / Drama, Creativity, TED Talk Speaker

Travels from Connecticut, USA

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Stephen Wilkes Profile

  • A "collector of magical moments," he is one of the nation's most prolific and iconic photographers known for his collections of mainland China, California's Highway One, and Ellis Island.

  • He is frequently chosen to shoot advertising campaigns for the world's leading corporations including SAP, Honda, IBM, and many more.

  • His project "Day to Night" rewrites the rules of photography by seamlessly blending 1,000 shots of the same landscape into a single photo, compressing the fourth dimension of time into a two dimensional medium.
  • For over 20 years Stephen Wilkes has been widely recognized for pushing the boundaries of what fine art and commercial photography can accomplish. His photos are published in top magazines, his exhibitions grand and frequent, and his passion for creating beautiful images with lasting power is evident when you view his work.

    Famed for his iconic shots of China’s stark contrasts, California’s majestic Pacific Coastal Highway, and the eery abandoned structures of Ellis Island, Wilkes has often used his art as a call to action. He was able to use his photography to capture $6 million of funding for the restoration of Ellis Island’s south side. Likewise, his documentation of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy has helped raised awareness of climate change.

    Wilkes’ most recent and ambitious project, “Day to Night,” takes on the idea of showcasing in one composite still image the transformation of a place over the course of a day. Starting in 2009, Wilkes chose various magical scenes ranging from Times Square to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, hand took over 2,000 photos of each location at different points throughout the day, and then combined the best shots into seamlessly blended photos depicting time on a diagonal vector, with sunrise beginning in the bottom right-hand corner.

    • View Extended/Alternate Bio

      Since opening his studio in New York City in 1983, photographer Stephen Wilkes has built an unprecedented body of work and a reputation as one of America’s most iconic photographers, widely recognized for his fine art, editorial and commercial work.
      His photographs are included in the collections of the George Eastman Museum, James A. Michener Art Museum, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Dow Jones Collection, Griffin Museum of Photography, Jewish Museum of NY, Library of Congress, Snite Museum of Art, The Historic New Orleans Collection, Museum of the City of New York, 9/11 Memorial Museum and numerous private collections. His editorial work has appeared in, and on the covers of, leading publications such as the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Time, Fortune, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, and many others.

      Wilkes’ early career interpretations of Mainland China, California’s Highway One, and impressionistic “Burned Objects” set the tone for a series of career-defining projects that catapulted him to the top of the photographic landscape.
      In 1998, a one-day assignment to the south side of Ellis Island led to a 5-year photographic study of the island’s long abandoned medical wards where immigrants were detained before they could enter America. Through his photographs and video, Wilkes helped secure $6 million toward the restoration of the south side of the island. 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 work was also featured on NPR and CBS Sunday Morning.

      In 2000, Epson America commissioned Wilkes to create a millennial portrait of the United States, “America In Detail,” a 52-day odyssey that was exhibited in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Day to Night, Wilkes’ most defining project, began in 2009. These epic cityscapes and landscapes, portrayed from a fixed camera angle for up to 30 hours capture fleeting moments of humanity as light passes in front of his lens over the course of full day. Blending these images into a single photograph takes months to complete. Day to Night has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning as well as dozens of other prominent media outlets and, with a grant from the National Geographic Society, was recently extended to include America’s National Parks in celebration of their centennial anniversary. The series will be published by TASCHEN as a monograph in 2017.

      Wilkes’ work documenting the ravages of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy has brought heightened awareness to the realities of global climate change. He was commissioned by the Annenberg Space for Photography to revisit New Orleans in 2013 after documenting Hurricane Katrina for the World Monuments Fund. And, his images were exhibited with his photographs on Hurricane Sandy in the 2014 Sink or Swim, Designing for a Sea of Change exhibition.

      Despite his intense dedication to personal projects, Wilkes continues to shoot advertising campaigns for the world’s leading agencies and corporations, including: OppenheimerFunds, SAP, IBM, The New Yorker, Johnson & Johnson, DHL, American Express, Nike, Sony, Verizon, IBM, AT&T, Rolex, Honda, McCann Worldwide, Ogilvy & Mather, and McGarry Bowen.

      Wilkes recently spoke at the TED2016: Dream Conference on his Day to Night series. He is currently working on a documentary film about legendary photographer Jay Maisel’s historic Bank Building at 190 Bowery. And, in 2016, his photograph Wrigley Field, Chicago, Day to Night, 2013 will be included in Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843- Present, an exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum curated by Gail Buckland.

      Wilkes’ extensive awards and honors include the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography, Photographer of the Year from Adweek Magazine, Fine Art Photographer of the Year 2004 Lucie Award, TIME Magazine Top 10 Photographs of 2012, Sony World Photography Professional Award 2012, Adobe Breakthrough Photography Award 2012 and Prix Pictet, Consumption 2014. His board affiliations include the Advisory Board of the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications; Save Ellis Island Board of Directors, on which he served for 5 years; and the Goldring Arts Journalism Board.

      Wilkes was born in 1957 in New York. He received his BS in photography from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a minor in business management from the Whitman School of Management in 1980.

      Wilkes, who lives and maintains his studio in Westport, CT, is represented by Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York; Peter Fetterman Gallery, Los Angeles; Monroe Gallery of Photography, Santa Fe; and ARTITLEDContemporary, The Netherlands.

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