‘Herculean’ process produces ‘Day to Night’ images of national parks
Via The Albuquerqe Journal
By Kathaleen Roberts / Journal Staff Writer
Sunday, December 20th, 2015
Invisible layers of time move Old Faithful from sunrise to sunset, ringed by a walkway of people rendered microscopic by its grandeur.
Nationally recognized photographer Stephen Wilkes has turned his lens to our national parks, commemorating their 100th anniversary in four-page gateway covers in both the January 2016 national and international issues of National Geographic. Santa Fe’s Monroe Gallery of Photography is showcasing the works beginning Saturday through Jan. 10, 2016.
Wilkes focused his discerning eye on Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, as well as the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Tanzania’s Serengeti.
What may appear to be time-lapse photography at first glance actually isn’t, Wilkes maintained.
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Working from a fixed camera angle, he captures the fleeting play of shadow and light as the sun shifts from dawn to dark. A single print may coalesce from 1,500 to 2,300 images. He uses a large format digital camera.
“I photograph from a single perspective, usually elevated, anywhere from 12 to 30 hours without moving my camera,” Wilkes said in a telephone interview from his Connecticut home.
“It’s quite Herculean. I’m actually studying a place for 30 hours.”
Launched in 2009, the parks project is an offshoot of a similar body of work on cities. He edits and blends the images into seamless works of art in post-production, a process that takes about a month.
“I look for very iconic places where everybody goes, ‘I’ve been there,'” he explained. “These places are part of our collective memory. When I do that, some kind of magic happens. Time becomes compressed.”
At Yellowstone, he photographed Old Faithful from the old crow’s nest atop the inn of the same name, capturing both the sun and the moon peaking above the foothills.
“It’s the most active place on the planet geologically,” Wilkes said. “It goes off every 90 minutes. When you look at that picture, you realize the enormity of just how big it is.”
Long a fan of the Hudson River School painter Albert Bierstadt, famous for his highly romanticized views of the West, Wilkes thought he could never capture the artist’s sweeping aesthetic.
“He painted it from the opposite view,” Wilkes said. “It was if I was channeling him at that moment. Yosemite is as close to being a religious experience as a landscape. When you look at the people in that photograph you realize how insignificant we are as a species.”
In Washington, he spent his preparation time following the cherry blossom handlers checking the petals for signs of peak bloom. Wilkes photographed them between the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial using an 80-foot crane.
The Serengeti offered a breakthrough, both aesthetically and philosophically. Wilkes arrived during the peak migration of the wildlife, but the animals had stopped due to a five-week drought. He began studying a watering hole and waited in hope. He had no idea if any creatures would appear.
“We started at 2 a.m. with an 18-foot platform with a crocodile blind,” he said. “We essentially became invisible.”
He witnessed something miraculous. The creatures arrived slowly, carefully taking turns without fighting over the precious resource.
“All these competitive species shared water,” Wilkes said. “It sort of speaks to you. They say the single resource we’ll go to war over is water. We have to hear what the animals know already.”
Wilkes came to New Mexico last fall to check out the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. He plans to return and shoot the most photographed event in the world next year.
-- Stephen Wilkes Day To Night photographs will be exhibited by Monroe Gallery at the photola fair, January 21 - 24, 2016.
See the National Geographic article on-line here.