Magazine Article


Being There

In 2003-2004, Wilkes creating a branding campaign for Arizona Jeans that earned awards for the company and the agency. The highway scene (bottom) is from the 2004 cross-country road trip campaign.

Saving Ellis Island

In 1999, Wilkes completed a personal project photographing the south side of Ellis Island . With photographs such as the iconic shot that opens this article (p. 16), along with his video work, he was able to secure $6 million in funding to restore the south side of the island.

Known for creating visceral experiences in multi-dimensional form, at Ellis Island he recorded images from the point of view of its turn-of-the-century inhabitants. Viewers looking at Wilkes' photos frequently remark that they feel the souls appearing in his images and are moved by the emotional hopes reflected in their immigrant eyes.

"Shooting Ellis Island was an incredible spiritual experience," he recalls. "As I walked through passages and around corners, it was as if I could see an old woman here, a child there. It was moving, haunting. Untouched for over 50 years, the south side echoes with ghosts of immigrants, some of whom never came any closer to America than the windows of their room. " Wilkes' South Side of Ellis Island exhibit debuted at The Soho Triad Fine Arts Gallery in New York City in April 2001. The collection traveled to Los Angeles in January 2003, and Santa Fe in October 2004.

The South Side of Ellis Island , a collection of these images, will be published by W.W. Norton & Company in the fall of 2006.

Stephen Wilkes' Gear Box

Digital Cameras & Backs
Canon EOS-1D Mark II
Leaf Valeo Digital Back


Rented as needed

Digital Darkroom

iMacs, G4, G4 PowerBooks
Adobe Software, Photoshop CS
Epson Stylus Photo 2200,
Stylus Pro 4000,
Stylus Pro 9600 printers
Epson Expression 10000XL Photo scanner
Imacon Flextight scanner
portable OWC hard drive


Lexar memory cards

ON-LOCATION workflow

Wilkes generally takes the lead at photo shoots, working to transform a vision he shares with the client into powerful images.

When the last image is captured, he downloads RAW files from his camera to his Apple Mac PowerBook via FireWire and backs them up on a portable OWC hard drive. If the client prefers, Wilkes can set up and process images on location with the FireWire hard drive or by posting to an FTP site. The team relies on GretagMacbeth for all their color management.

Wilkes' team is made up of three to four staffers--a full-time assistant, full-time studio manager, his wife, who works as a producer, and he'll hire temp workers as needed. He also taps the expertise of photo agents Howard Bernstein and Carol Alda.

A prolific photographer whose vault of digital files continues to expand, Wilkes is battling an image archiving and retrieval process. It's like going into a dark closet when it comes to managing and retrieving these files. You have to go inside to remember what you've got."

T o resolve this issue, Wilkes is testing Apple's new Xserve RAID system for storing terabytes of information and images and will create a hard-copy index or contact sheet for visual reference.

in search of . . .

Wilkes is constantly looking for photo projects to feed his soul. He recently disappeared for several weeks in China to initiate a personal photo project. Until he finds his next project, Wilkes will be taking and making pictures that let us feel the joy of being there, the joy of being in the moment.

For Stephen Wilkes images, visit