Brant Point is undoubtedly the most photographed landmark on Nantucket. And yet of the millions of images taken of the stout lighthouse guarding the entrance to the harbor, one photo has never been captured—until now. This July, world-famous photographer Stephen Wilkes is unveiling his signature Day to Night edition of Brant Point, a single image that has taken the better part of two years to produce.
Renowned for his editorial, commercial and fine art work, Wilkes began his Day to Night technique in 2009 when photographing The Highline in New York City. Fixing a camera on a tripod, Wilkes takes more than a thousand images over the course of a twenty-four to thirty-six-hour period. Each of these images captures a distinct moment in time that Wilkes then painstakingly photoshops together to depict the happenings of a single day in a single frame. Since that first image, Wilkes has photographed some of the most iconic locations in the country, from Yosemite National Park to Times Square to Wrigley Field. Now Nantucket joins his select catalog.
Wilkes became interested in photographing Nantucket after a friend and collector suggested the idea to him two years ago. He worked with island photographer and gallery owner Nathan Coe in scouting locations, until selecting Brant Point, which, along with its significance to the island, could also accommodate the elaborate logistical requirements needed to fix his 4x5 digital camera in place for twenty-four to thirty-six hours. Accompanied by three assistants, Wilkes mounted his tripod to the widow’s walk of a nearby private property with his lens fixed on the lighthouse. Shooting virtually around the clock for the next day and a half, Wilkes captured boats, birds, bathers and the comings and goings around Brant Point as the sun rose, arched and fell across the sky.
"I loved photographing the Brant Point Lighthouse, a timeless beacon that embraces every visitor as they embark upon the harbor of Nantucket,” Wilkes said. “The lighthouse is an enduring symbol of this island paradise, steeped in rich history and maritime lore.”
Returning to his studio in Westport, Connecticut, with those thousands of images, Wilkes spent the next four months culling his selection down to the best fifty images, which he then methodically stitched together in Photoshop to create a seamless image that isn’t so much a time-lapse as a rendering of a single day condensed in a single frame. “What I’m doing is essentially visualizing the space and time continuum to a certain degree,” Wilkes has said of his work. “Albert Einstein described time like a fabric that gets bent and warped over time based on a gravitational field, kind of like a trampoline. The idea of fabric really hit me. I take that fabric and I flatten it into a two-dimensional plane. Amazing things start to happen when I meld time and the rotation of light and the color change of light.”
On top of the mind-bending beauty of the images, Wilkes is also trying to communicate messages through his photography. In recent years, he’s photographed locations such as the melting icecaps in Greenland and endangered species in the Serengeti to convey the inherent fragility of nature. “I feel like there’s an opportunity for me to tell stories that can inform people and inspire them to see the world the way I see it and the way I capture change over time,” Wilkes has said. “I saw it firsthand when I was photographing over the span of twenty-six hours in the Serengeti. All of these different species of animals were sharing a watering hole and never once grunted at each other. Water is the thing that we’re supposed to have wars over, but this experience was very transformative for me because I realized that animals communicate at a level that we don’t really understand, and the act of sharing is part of their language.”
Less than a hundred prints of Wilkes’ Day to Night edition of Nantucket were produced, ranging in size from 24 by 38 inches to 60 by 95 inches. Fetching upward of $100,000 per print, the series is extremely limited and represents one of only four images Wilkes releases each year. “Photographing the Brant Point Lighthouse was more than just capturing a picturesque scene,” Wilkes said. “It was an exploration of history and timelessness, of a beacon that has witnessed countless stories unfold.”