Like Magic

Cape Cod Life  /  Annual Life 2021 /

Writer: Allyson Plessner

East Sandwich photographer Don Fleet has spent years studying his craft, and the result is masterful, touching photographs of the many beautiful angles of Cape Cod.

Brewster Flats

A photograph is astounding in many ways. Often it is the smallest details that make for the biggest moments, and a photograph serves to capture those moments, bringing them to a stop and holding them in an instant of perfection for eternity. With a camera in hand, every hundredth of a second has the potential to be an everlasting memory. It’s a powerful thing to be a steward of those moments, the holder of that camera. As Dorothea Lang puts it, “Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” But, the very best photographers know that a beautiful photograph is so much more than a static instant — it’s a living thing filled with emotion and faultless simplicity that adds movement to something many would otherwise describe as “still.” A truly great photograph has an element of magic to it, making one feel they could simply step through the frame into a fantastical world of swirling color and poignant feeling and never look back, as if stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. 

Sandwich Boardwalk Panoramic

For photographer Don Fleet, that magic photograph wasn’t his own — at least not initially. It was a portrait of himself and a friend taken at a wedding 20 years ago. The word Fleet uses to describe the moment he looked at the print is, simply, “captivated.” From that moment on, Don dedicated himself to learning the art of photography, and quickly, he went from being the one inspired to the one doing the inspiring. 

Highland Star Trails

“I signed up for dark room classes through the New England School of Photography and used to drive to Braintree to take the T into Kenmore Square. I must have been out of my mind,” Don laughs. His hunger for education continued to manifest itself in the workshops and classes he took on; everything from understanding his camera to editing his photos, and he soon became a member of the Cape Cod Art Association’s Camera Club. It wasn’t long until Don discovered the awe-inspiring world of night photography.

Boat Meadow Sunset

“I was in disbelief when a friend told me I could take photos in the dark,” jokes Don. “My first night photograph was taken by accident; I didn’t know how I did it or if I’d be able to do it again.” But, as is his way, he dedicated himself to studying all the nuances of night photography. YouTube became a constant companion, and eventually he was capturing the incredible colors of the Milky Way and bright trails of stars. “Often I become overwhelmed when I see the colors from a long exposure,” he reflects. “I think the most interesting aspect of night photography is the unpredictability of the final image.” 

Falmouth Heights Night

An East Sandwich resident, Don’s territory for inspiration is vast. Spanning from the Canal down the National Seashore, he has a knack for finding scenic creeks and cranberry bogs as well as popular photographic spots like the Knob in Falmouth, always putting his own unique twist on the images he captures. As he puts it, “Sunrises and sunsets are available at different angles every day. Conservation areas are just waiting for the perfect image to be taken. And to think, I’m so close by…”

Bourne Bridge

Don’s appetite for making photographs has only grown more insatiable since that fateful day 20 years ago. He’s been recognized at a number of competitions and by various art guilds over the years and held exhibits like his “Colors of the Night” show at the Canal Visitor Center in Sandwich. A constant student, Don dedicates himself to studying the work of others and learning new things about the art of photography daily. “For me, an important component of each image is to bring the viewer an artistic story of the scene I’m photographing,” he says, explaining that that scene is colored by the people he meets and the friendships he’s created through his craft. And, at the end of it all, as Don says, “It all goes back to the day I was given that wonderful print.”

California Fires Knob

For more about Don Fleet and to view his work, visit fleetwoodphotography.com

Allyson Plessner

Allyson Plessner is a former editorial intern for Cape Cod Life and now works for the publication as a staff writer and digital media coordinator. Born in Florida, Allyson has been a lifelong summer resident of the Cape. She is a recent alumna of the College of Charleston, located in Charleston, South Carolina, where she completed bachelor’s degrees in both English and Spanish. In her free time, Allyson is an avid sailor, beach-goer, and—like her fellow Cape Cod Life colleagues—a dog-lover.