For more than 30 hours, photographer and National Geographic Explorer Stephen Wilkes watched people move through the sea of white flags below him on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He saw young children bend down curiously to examine the small flags, and cyclists lay down their bikes to take in the 20-acre expanse of them. He saw skateboarders roll through, selfie-takers frame shots—and passersby slowly realize that each flag represents a life lost to COVID-19.
On September 18 and 19, starting before sunrise and finishing after sunset, Wilkes took 4,882 photographs of the art installation In America: Remember, an exhibit that aims to convey the enormity of the country’s pandemic losses. He and his team then blended the photographs into a single composite image, part of his Day to Night series.
“One of the things I tried to capture was the epic scale of this,” says Wilkes. “It’s almost impossible to take it all in.”