Since the advent of Instagram, watch photography, in all of its various forms, has become the glue of our community and culture. And so with The Open Caseback, I’ve made a point to never post images of watches. I do this primarily because I agree with Susan Sontag’s assertion in her book, On Photography:
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it is not a coincidence that all of these unhealthy watch market behaviors popped up as Instagram’s popularity grew. In this regard, writing is my act of rebellion.
That being said though, I do have a great appreciation for watch photography. Despite its ubiquity, I believe we still under-appreciate how watch photography has elevated the watch community and culture.
So today, I want to zoom in on collectors like @garyg_1, @horomariobro, and @uhrenbeweger (to name a few), who have cultivated photography interests to such an extent that they have reached professional-level quality. As we see more and more of these “collector-photographers”, I want to address the following question: what does photography do for collectors?
Two birds, one… photo
I was fortunate enough to chat with a few members of the community that began as collectors and have developed into exceptionally capable watch photographers. What I realized from these conversations is that collectors who engage with watch photography do so for rather culturally astute reasons.
J.P. Morgan used to say something along the lines of “never do any one thing for less than two reasons,” and from my conversations, collector-photographers communicated a very similar sentiment. The two primary motivators were:
- Contribute better watch images against the tsunami of low-quality wrist pics on social media, and;
- Develop a better eye for watch design nuances.
There are factors that are external (contributing to the community) and internal (fine tuning horological aesthetic sensibilities) driving collectors to become better photographers.
I’ve said it before, every impassioned member of the watch community is trying to escape the Groundhog Day effect of social media. It appears as if photography is a shift in gears, providing a foundation to think of what it means to be a member of the watch community.
The beauty of photography is that it reframes what it means to meaningfully contribute to the watch community.
Watch photography as active participation
Contributing to anything requires being active, which often goes against the grain of most leisure in the modern world. As the French sociologist Henri Lefebvre observed in Critique of Everyday Life, Vol. I:
Lefebvre never saw the rise of Netflix and social media, but most of his observations on leisure and passivity still hold true. Though social media has some active elements, the watch community, and watch culture by extension, is boxed into the neat, repetitive behaviors of buying watches, posting pics, liking photos, and commenting emojis. Collector-photographers implicitly recognize this ultra-repetitive reality, and put time and energy into breaking the cultural cycle for themselves as individuals. It’s a productive, active pursuit that often entails stylistic evolution over time.
Watch photography as criticism
Watch photography isn’t just a way of becoming active participants in the community. It can also become its own form of watch criticism. When the collector-photographers I spoke to say photography has helped “develop their eye for watch design”, it means that capturing images helps them better understand watches.
But beyond knowledge and appreciation, photography can also help us be more critical of watches. Especially with macro images, we’re seeing more critical-minded collectors – quasi-photographer activists – use their camera equipment to shed light on subpar finishing on haute horlogerie timepieces. This category of images has become a battle cry for collectors and enthusiasts – a strategy to hold brands accountable for their work and promises. In a sense, photography helps us balance the scales of power.
There is a lot of room for more “above and beyond” activity in the watch community. Whether we like to admit it or not, many of us are extremely bored in the watch community. I was thrilled to see my friend @books_on_time begin writing more long-form, and A Collected Man continues to roll out very solid, long-form content. We need more photographers, more writers, more creative people to contribute to the watch community. The more we have, the less it’ll feel like Groundhog Day and the better we will become as a community.
Another day with the beast,