The first thing you'll notice when you look at one of Stephen Wilkes' photographs is the grandeur of the view: a sweeping, glistening cityscape saturated with color, taken from an impressive bird's-eye perspective.
Brooklyn Bridge. | (Stephen Wilkes)
But if you let your gaze linger a little longer, another subject emerges out of the photograph like a secret image in a Magic Eye poster: time. As you move your eye from one side to the other, the light shifts, shadows rotate, and scenes quiet — or come to life.
Campanile di San Marco, Venice. | (Stephen Wilkes)
In a single photograph, Stephen Wilkes bends time.
This is no easy feat. Each photograph is a composite of about 1,500 images taken from a fixed location.
First, Wilkes chooses an iconic locale — Stonehenge, for example, or the Vatican. Then, securing a cherry picker or something similar, he climbs to the top, chooses his angle, and decides where his final image will start and end, where the day will shift from morning to night or vice versa.
Then he starts shooting. Working between 12 and 36 hours from his great height, Wilkes segments his days into different parts of what will become his final frame.
Perched above Venice's Campanile di San Marco, for example, he'll spend his morning photographing the bustle of tourists in the bottom left side of the frame; in the afternoon he shifts to the center and the long shadow created by the bell tower; by evening he focuses his lens on the upper right corner, where the roof of the Procuratie Vecchie meets the twilight sky.
"My eye moves as time moves," Wilkes said in an interview. "I'm not only just taking the pictures. My brain is actually now visualizing this like a puzzle in real time."
Kumbh Mela Festival, Haridwar, India. | (Stephen Wilkes)
Once Wilkes has his day of photographs, he and his team spend months sifting through the images, selecting the best elements — the most breathtaking cloud formations, the most endearing human interactions. Then the team digitally stitches the final selection together into a seamless image that captures the breadth of a single day.
"I am essentially creating a narrative story, all the sort of human elements, the things that are going on within the context of this day, the little nuances," Wilkes said. "Instead of one moment, I see that photography — because of technology — can now be hundreds of moments."
Campanile San Giorgio, Venice. | (Stephen Wilkes)
Wilkes has been working on the series, aptly called Day to Night, for eight years. And while each image compresses time, Wilkes said the project is actually meant to slow things down.
"I do think in a strange way these pictures become little places for daydreaming," he said. "Maybe you can get lost in my pictures. Maybe you didn't have time to sit with me for 18 hours or 36 hours. But I made this picture, and I want to show you what that felt like."
Slow down and get lost in Wilkes' mesmerizing, time-bending masterpieces below:
Tour de France, Paris. | (Stephen Wilkes)
Tulip Fields, The Netherlands. | (Stephen Wilkes)
Stonehenge, England. | (Stephen Wilkes)
Easter Mass, The Vatican. | (Stephen Wilkes)