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Minimalist Aesthetics

by Andrew Spencer

photography by Daniel Sutherland

In today’s world, we can instantly see what we’ve shot and if we don’t like it, we can take another picture. At least in my case, it does not matter how many times I re-take the photo. It never really accurately captures the scene I’m viewing.

Take, for example, the natural majesty of slow-rolling waves crashing on a deserted beach on Nantucket’s south shore. What you’re witnessing is indescribably beautiful, as the sunsets below the horizon and wisps of spray reach for the sky as the crest of the wave curls over and pounds into the sand beneath it. You can take as many shots of that scene as you want, but you’re never going to get it to look like it does in reality.

That is, unless, you’re Nantucket photographer Daniel Sutherland, who has photographed Nantucket landscapes for the past quarter-century. Sutherland’s exquisite landscape portraits do what I had long thought impossible: They truly capture the magic of a Nantucket landscape.

I just open the shutter and let the world move

His latest work features what is known as an open-shutter technique, which essentially allows for a longer exposure of the image. The result is what can only be described as magic. “It allows me to be more abstract with the landscape,” he explained. “I just open the shutter and let the world move.” Waves on the photo paper look like they do at Cisco, with a fine mist of spray arching off the breaking wave. Every detail of a flower jumps out of the photograph. The technique creates, in other words, exactly what I fail to do in my own photographs.

While technique is the bedrock of his amazing photos, Sutherland knows the value of a hard day’s work. I’m out there at five o’clock in the morning, waiting to capture the perfect image. And I’ll be out there every day until I get the image I’m after.”

There’s another element at play, too and that is patience. “I wait to find the moments that allow for more abstraction,” he said. “Waiting for just the right moment helps provide more artistic interpretation of the landscape.” Case in point, oftentimes when he’s asked to do private commissions of specific scenes – a home, a landscape, the beach – he tells the client that it can take six months because he will not settle for just any shot. The whole scene – the light, the reflections, and the shadows, all of it – has to be absolutely perfect.

I’m out there at five o’clock in the morning, waiting to capture the perfect image

It’s that sort of dedication and patience that have helped Sutherland to build his reputation as one of the island’s preeminent photographers. “Photography is like anything else. You have to practice every day to get better. You have to constantly work to improve and evolve.”Evolution is a thematic foundation for his latest collection of works entitled “Continuance.” The title of the collection reflects not just a nod to his continued interest in the landscapes of the island he calls home, but also references the open-shutter technique. “It’s about a continued shot,” he explained. “The element of uncertainty is amplified when extending shutter speeds; leading to increased failure but also increased reward when the confluence of time, place and motion coalesce into a successful abstract expression of the scene.”

A new printing technique he is also employing involves taking his images and printing them on cloth. “It’s a dye sublimation process. You can really print on anything using it. I’ve tried a lot of substrates, and I finally landed on this particular type of fabric as the perfect medium.” The potential size for the photo is almost limitless, as he showed me an example of a recent piece that measured out at seven-by-nine feet.

“My images aren’t grand,” Sutherland said, though he wasn’t necessarily referring to the size of the photo itself. “They’re intimate. I employ a very minimalist aesthetic, an aesthetic of feeling. I’m able to tell the story of one moment in Nantucket’s history through very specific details. I look at my work as creating the portrait of Nantucket throughout the everyday minutiae.”

They’re intimate, I employ a very minimalist aesthetic, an aesthetic of feeling . . .

Sutherland’s camera of choice is a Hasselblad, the choice of truly serious photographers, which made me wonder how much of his skill was derived from using the absolute best-of-the-best in terms of camera equipment. That’s when he checkmated me by bringing out a copy of Nantucket Rantum Scoot, a book of Sutherland’s photographs that were taken exclusively with his iPhone. The book’s title refers to the old-time Nantucket tradition of going on a walk without any particular destination in mind, but the photos inside have a distinct purpose. They show how something as benign as a cell phone camera can become an instrument of magic in the hands of someone who is a true photographic artist. Either way, the results speak for themselves, and what those results say is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

To learn more about Daniel Sutherland and to see more of his photography, please visit his website at:

Article edited. Full version available in ONLY NANTUCKET FALL/WINTER 2018.

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