Photographer Stephen Wilkes has iconic images that everyone with the gift of eyesight has seen if you’re in the Western world. He’s well known for his landscapes that show places going seamlessly from day to night. Years ago, I purchased Stephen Wilkes Day to Night and received a signature from the great photographer too. I still remember viewing his photos in a large format on a screen. While I still believe that the print is the ultimate way to view a photo, this book does a massive injustice to the great photographer. And if you make the purchase of the book, you probably might never even bother wanting to crack it open and look at it. Though as an investment piece, it’s nice to know that it goes up in price on the secondhand market..
Stephen Wilkes Day to Night starts with a big, multilingual introduction if you’ve got the extra-large edition of the book. The words aren’t of Stephen talking about his work, but instead an introduction to who he is. Admittedly, I really didn’t care to read this section as I just wanted to dive in and stare at the photos with the synonymous excitement of a child looking at a picture book.
First off, you need a big coffee table to appreciate this book. With that in mind, it wouldn’t fair well at many of the tables for two that you see in restaurants. Instead, you’d need two tables put together. Even in the space of my office, I sat here struggling to give this book the real estate space that it’s wrongfully demanding. That sentence was worded with the utmost intention because the layout design is deplorable. While paging through Stephen Wilkes Day to Night, I tried concentrating on the sound of my own meditative breath to hush the voice in my head that tells me to throw this book in the trash or rip the pages out and frame them for myself.
The layout violates a major rule of photography books: don’t split a photo down the middle of the book fold. It does this many times, in fact. As I paged through, I felt more frustration than I did awe from the book. Sometimes you’ll get a single page showcasing a single image. But more often than not, it splits photos between two pages — which completely ruins the image in the equivalent way of bending or folding a print.
The paper is also quite a bit on the shiny side of the luster variety. So if you’re viewing this book, make sure that it’s lit from the top of the book and that it’s elevated to soften the light and prevent reflections. I wouldn’t recommend reading it with side lighting and no direct lighting, either.
Stephen Wilkes Day to Night is heartbreaking mostly because his images are often ruined by the fold that I speak of. But that’s not all. It’s made even more heartbreaking when you zoom in on the details with a loupe or a magnifying glass. You can tell the Stephen gave incredibly sharp and well-detailed images for the print job. But instead of preserving the print, it’s handed to you like some uninterested intern who knew nothing about prints decided to fold it up and put it in their messenger bag to simply fulfill a purpose. It’s worth wanting to scream as Wilkes’ images are masterpieces that sometimes blend day and night so well that you can’t really tell that it’s happening.
And I found myself very frustrated and needing to constantly interact with the book instead of just having my eyes pour over the images distraction-free.
This book is ultimately a disappointment, and a great example of what not do with prints ever.