5 questions for...Stephen Wilkes, photographer known for “Day to Night” pictures
FAIRFIELD — Jennings Beach will join the likes of Stonehenge and the Serengeti when it becomes the subject of one of photographer Stephen Wilkes’ 24-hour day-to-night pictures.
Wilkes, a Westport resident, is an acclaimed photographer whose work has been featured in Vanity Fair, Time, Fortune and National Geographic. His photographs can also be found in museums and private collections.
He will be at Jennings Beach around 4:30 a.m. on Friday, and anyone walking past his camera might find themselves in the finished project. The shoot was originally scheduled for Saturday, but Wilkes changed it due to weather concerns, although he said he may be back out again on Saturday.
The Jennings Beach photograph has been commissioned by the Saft family for the Fairfield Museum and History Center, in honor of their late mother, Marcia Saft. Marcia Saft was a member of the museum board. It will go on display at the museum next April and become part of its permanent collection.
Q: Why Jennings Beach?
A: I decided Jennings Beach, and the area around it, is just a very iconic view. This is the beach people really love to hang out at.
It’s the way it sways, and the sand, and the eye follows it all the way out to the Penfield (Reef) Lighthouse.
I wanted to have the activity during the day, from the early morning, at low tide, and when the sun goes down, and the kids playing — all these people at the same time having the same experience.
Q: What equipment do you use for the shoot?
A: I work with a large- format digital camera. It’s a very meticulous, patience-driven process. I’m going to be on a scaffolding 15 to 20 feet high, literally from when the stars are out until the sun sets. The camera is in a fixed position.
Q: Exactly how are the photos taken?
A: It’s not a time-lapse photo. I hand cock the
shutter for every shot. My work really deals with the process of observation, and all the subtleties, and things I begin to see after staying in one spot for 24 hours.
When I sit down with the images, I decide when the day begins and the night ends, and the best moments of the day appear when they happened. What you will see is everything as the time changes — the light rotating, the tide changing.
Q: Do you ever get bored doing a 24-hour shoot?
A: People ask me that all the time. The truth is, I like looking at things, and what I’ve discovered is the power of observation. When you do this for long periods of time, it’s unbelievably rewarding, as very few things can be. Whether it’s in the Serengeti in front of a watering hole or the things I see in New York City or Coney Island in Brooklyn. I see patterns — I see patterns in nature, I see patterns in life, like in the way people move in the street. It becomes this fascinating pattern.
When you’re 50 feet in the air, you see how people flow. In New York City, I don’t see individual people. I see that riptide of movement; it’s almost like a school of fish. I’ve watched it in cities; I’ve seen it in National Parks. I am just fascinated by it, and it’s changed my whole perception as to how life is and how all those things are together.
For me, it’s about a sense of discovery. My first pictures were through a microscope. In a way, I’m doing that now.
Q: What should people do, or not do, during the shoot?
A: Please don’t stand and wave. They should just be who they are and enjoy the day. Be yourself. It’s a celebration of life. It’s capturing the magic of what I felt on a single day, and I try to re-create my memory of a single day from my perspective — the magical moments that happened in front of my lens.
It’s about the joy of seeing and feeling and experiencing, and if I’ve done my job right, it touches you in a way that you recall some experience you had. Maybe it was walking on the beach at sunrise — these are the sort of things I try to capture.
We all have life experiences that are connected to a place. My job is find those iconic places that speak to your own memories. Now, I’m going to show you this place in a way you’ve never seen before.