Magazine Article


Being There

In the Moment with Photographer Stephen Wilkes

The best piece of advice I ever received came early in my career," says Connecticut-based fine art and commercial photographer Stephen Wilkes. While a student at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University , Wilkes took a summer course at Parsons with photographer Bob Edleman, who told him: "You better understand what this world's all about if you want to be a good photographer."

Heeding this counsel, Wilkes became a world traveler, explorer, and observer, channeling his photojournalist experiences into capturing feelings and emotions on film, never limiting himself to a single style, subject, or technique.

Shooting since age 12, he has served a prestigious list of clients, including Epson America , Lucent, Arizona Jeans, Rolex, Vail Resorts/Beaver Creek, and The New York Times Magazine , as well as agencies, such as Chiat Day, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam, and McCann Erickson.

Cross-Country Creative

In 2000, Wilkes was commissioned by Epson America to create a millenial portrait of the United States . Over 52 days, Wilkes and team criss-crossed the country, covering over 20,000 miles, looking for photographic details--people, places, and things that capture the variety, mood, and texture of America as the new century began.

For Wilkes, two of the most important ingredients for success are a positive attitude and being in the right place. As he explains, "Being in the right place is more than just physically standing in an optimal location to photograph. It's a metaphysical skill capable of creating an image that lets the viewer 'be there, be in the moment' when viewing the photo."

Cingular Sensation

While Wilkes adheres to a creed of photo purist, acknowledging that "you have to be there to experience it and to photograph it," he loves the extra dimension that digital can offer. His camera favorites are Canon's EOS-1D Mark II and 20D.

"These days, you either take a picture or make a picture," he says. "I like to create pictures that speak to everyone. Digital has given me an opportunity to take more creative license in my imagery."

Recently, Wilkes created a composite ad image full of excitement and emotion using 300 digital plates. Depicting a slice of life during a seventh-inning stretch at an American ballpark, Wilkes wanted viewers looking at the scene to feel as if they are a part of the picture.

The Cingular ad (above), which was set to debut after press time, was shot in the dead of winter at Turner Field. On day one, Wilkes staged and shot the grandstand full of baseball fans. Using only 150 models, he moved the fans from seating block to seating block, while envisioning how the final stitched-together grandstand would look.

On day two, he focused on the infield and photographed pitchers, umps, players, and batters in the bullpen and dugouts, and carefully placed maintenance workers mid-field to tell the Cingular story. Note the trademark bars taking shape.

Got Cheese?

For another client, the California Milk Advisory Board (below), the assignment was all about taking the photo and being in the right place at the right time.

On location at Point Reyes in Northern California , Wilkes, the art director and team were trying to shoot the next ad for the popular California cheese series. With rain hampering the shoot most of the morning, Wilkes decided to take a stroll. Grabbing an assistant, he walked around the hill. Within minutes, a patch of blue sky appeared, the rain ceased, and he quickly framed and shot his background before clouds and rain closed in again. Using his pristine green hills as background, Wilkes added a couple of cows and voilà!

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