While partygoers were waiting in lines and huddling under umbrellas on Parliament Hill, artist Stephen Wilkes was watching Canada’s 150th birthday party from a fourth-storey window across the street and finding beauty in the chaos.
The New York photographer’s work Canada 150 was funded by the U.S. embassy as a symbol of American-Canadian friendship on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, and was unveiled Thursday night at the National Gallery of Canada.
It’s part of Wilkes’s series Day to Night, which consists of works created by shooting a scene repeatedly over an extended period — 20 hours, in the case of Canada 150 — from a fixed camera position. Wilkes then blends a selection of the photos to create a finished work where time appears to move within the image itself.
In Canada 150, day becomes night as the viewer’s eyes travel up the image.
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, are seen waving to the crowd at the bottom right, and again closer to the centre, being greeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Just below the Parliament Buildings there’s a band of colourful umbrellas that would have appeared during one of the day’s downpours, while the sky is lit up with the evening fireworks.
‘Capturing the human narrative’
Wilkes doesn’t shy away from complex scenes in the Day to Night series. Canada 150 is typical of many of the works, with its crowds of people; the series also includes shots of Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration and the 2016 Easter Mass at The Vatican.
“I’m very interested in capturing the human narrative that’s in the foreground of all my images,” Wilkes said.
The human narrative on July 1 in Ottawa was of the “man versus nature” variety as nearly 15 millimetres of rain poured down.
“It almost looks like a lake on the left side of the photograph, but people are playing in it,” Wilkes said. “I found the resilience and the tenacity of every Canadian who came out on that day was nothing short of extraordinary. No matter how hard it rained, they just stuck it out.
“They were like, completely committed to it.”
Rain a challenge for the artist
The rain also forced Wilkes to shoot from a fourth-storey room instead of from the building’s roof, as was originally…