Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Stephen Wilkes: Bodies Of Work
Artist Stephen Wilkes continues to push the bounds of what can be done with a still photograph in both content and technique
|This Article Features Photo Zoom|
Wilkes had a revelation during that trip. "I realized that I needed a body of work with a stamp on it," he explains. "That's what defines a photographer's style—bodies of work that are consistent." In the years since, Wilkes has created numerous major bodies of work on subjects that engage him. One of his first was a year-long study of California's iconic Pacific-hugging Route 1, shot with a mix of 35mm and the panoramic, medium-format Fuji GX617. With classic images of posing surfer dudes, Venetian sunglass hawkers and beachfront bikini contests, the work became 1987's California One: The Pacific Coast Highway, Wilkes' first book. Other subjects have ranged from environmental nudes to Chinese megafactories. "You can photograph lots of different things," says Wilkes, "but you have to stay consistent."
A Chinese factory worker amid a sea of machinery.
"At Ellis, I took a kind of architectural approach, seeing it as lines and textures and colors," he remembers. "Then, as I worked, I started to feel the energy and emotion in those empty rooms." Wilkes' experience is yet more evidence that some of the greatest art achieves an emotional life by formal means—and Wilkes' Ellis Island images go far beyond the decorative despite their often dazzling filigree of peeling paint and invading vines. They echo with the voices of would-be Americans, especially those confined to the island's medical facilities because of their physical or mental health.
Wilkes' most recent project addresses an altogether different kind of intersection—one that can't be seen with the naked eye, yet that records a more transient time span. In "Day To Night," Wilkes captures a single scene from the break of dawn until dark. Half the scene is in daylight and half as it appears at night, artificial lights blazing. In between is a subtle gradation that relies on careful digital compositing of roughly 50 separate exposures culled from at least 1,200 shots, each made with an 80-megapixel, single-shot digital back on a 4x5 view camera. The individual frames aren't fired by time-lapse, but rather are made one by one by Wilkes, which is why the photographer describes the end result as "street photography on a massive scale."
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