Something like love

Stephen Wilkes Lecture at PhotoNOLA

Posted in Commercial, Documentary, Fine Art, Fine art, Lecutre, Moving, Photography, Pretty things by linhdy on December 24, 2010

Stephen Wilkes - Ellis Island

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I returned from PhotoNOLA at New Orleans where we  had the wonderful experience of hearing photographer Stephen Wilkes lecture, in the flesh.  The December 11th lecture was two hours long and focused on his personal work with glimpses of his from high school work up until his recent project on the BP Oil Spill.

The most critical moment in the lecture and (in some ways his career), was when he was serendipitously granted unlimited access to document the Ellis Island hospital complex, which housed ill immigrants from 1892 to 1954 on their way to the United States.  As he said, Wilkes was in the right place at the right time.

The abandoned hospital complex was left in all its haunting glory in a secluded section of the Island.  During that time, it was exposed to the natural elements and–most importantly– time.  Wilkes captured the beautiful decay of the rooms,  parallel to the heavy history of those who stayed and even died in within the hospital ward.   His photographs tell the story of those who suffered, lived, and died within those confines.  The photos hint at an unsettling, and sometimes light, side of humanity.

On a lighter note, his lecture segued to his Vanity Fair piece on the billion-dollar financial swindler Bernard Madoff (incredibly clever!), to his on-going documentation of China as an industrializing machine (both scary and admirable).

Wilkes ended on an uplifting note by sharing his photos document the BP oil spill.  At that moment, it became clear that he aims to use his work to drive change.  And that my friend, is incredibly inspirational.

[Photos by Stephen Wilkes, Ellis Island]

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