Photographing the Watchmen Movie

Being a first-time set photographer for the Watchmen movie allowed Clay Enos to see the production in a different light—resulting in a beautiful book that pays tribute to the cast and crew.

Photographing-the-Watchmen-Movie
Photographing-the-Watchmen-Movie

When Clay Enos signed on to become the unit photographer for the hotly anticipated Watchmen film adaptation, he had no idea what was in store. This was the first time the New York photographer had taken pictures for a movie, and he wasn't aware of the immense pressure, controversy, and fandom surrounding the famed graphic novel from the 1980s. But Enos earnestly believes his ignorance of normal set photography procedures and fan expectations might have helped guide his relatively unique approach to the project.

While he took the obligatory shots of the cast and crew on set, he managed to find time to indulge in his personal passion: the portrait. Over the course of the lengthy 106-day film shoot, Enos convinced actors (and crew members) to pose in front of a simple white backdrop in between shots.

"I was enamored with the textures of the film," he says of the elaborate costumes, makeup, and sets. "Watchmen leant itself to such an amazing depth of characters across different eras, and to have hair stylists, make up artists, and costume designers all essentially preparing my models… portraits just seemed like a logical thing to do."

Enos's poignant and extremely detailed large format pictures-which allow you to, according to Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, "actually count the pores on people's noses"-are now available to both comic and photography fanatics alike in the tome Watchmen Portraits (Titan Books, $50). While the photos are of exceptional quality, the method in which Enos captured these moments can only be described as ad hoc, due to the demanding nature of filmmaking.

"It started out with a large street studio that was dubbed the 'Clay Cube,' but soon enough it was a 4 by 8 piece of foam core on the fly, looking for natural light, accessing gear on the side," he laughs. "I took this spontaneous approach to it and grabbed whoever was ready. It was always done on the periphery and in between shots."

A series of quiet, black-and-white portraits may on the surface seem like an odd format to document a big-budget action flick, but the Watchmen plot lends itself well to the subdued, earnest photos. Watchmen is one of the first comics to present the super hero as a sad, fallen character; in the story, "masked vigilantes" are required by law to retire and assimilate back into normal society.

While Enos (who read the graphic novel for the first time on the flight to the film set) didn't create this book with fans in mind necessarily, there is much for them to love. Portraits may not offer the telling behind-the-scenes moments that fans are looking for, but the order of photos may intrigue and delight them.

"Each spread kind of talks to each other," Enos explains, whether it's due to artistic elements or because of small details from the story. (For example: A young punk wearing metallic, futuristic shades is coupled with a SWAT cop in combat goggles, while a particularly garish costumed hero stands opposite a drag queen.) Like a Rorschach test-which can be found on the mask of one of the characters-there is a different meaning for each viewer.

But this careful, attentive layout surprisingly took Enos only 15 minutes to arrange-on the floor of the director's office, no less. "I'd been living with the photos long enough to know that some of them obviously went together," he says.

"Living" with the photos is a perfect way to describe Enos's relationship with his imagery, because ultimately, this project was a labor of love: He will not profit financially from Portraits. But he hopes the book might bring him some publicity and the opportunity to repeat the exercise in a different environment-say, the White House with all the people who make it run. Because what he loved most about his foray into set photography was the community his equalizing approach fostered and the way the "unsung heroes" felt appreciated.

"People invited me closer," he explains. "And towards the end, after I'd photographed so many people, when I'd pull someone new over, they'd be like 'ah, finally!'" Enos smiles wide. "They'd been keeping track."

Watchmen is in theaters and IMAX on March 6, 2009. To view more of Clay Enos's photography, visit clayenos.com.

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Photos-from-Watchmen-Portraits-001
Watchmen Portraits cover.
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Photographer Clay Enos in costume for a war scene.Clay Enos
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Actor Stephen McHattie as Hollis Mason.Clay Enos
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McHattie’s stunt double.Clay Enos
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Laurie, the daughter of the Silk Spectre, played by Malin Ackerman.Clay Enos
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Photos-from-Watchmen-Portraits-006
Ozymandias, the smartest man alive, played by Matthew Goode.Clay Enos
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An extra from an inauguration scene.Clay Enos
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The Comedian, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan.Clay Enos
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A grinning extra.Clay Enos
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A bar patron.Clay Enos
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Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan, pre-CGI makeover.Clay Enos
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The original Nite Owl.Clay Enos
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Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley.Clay Enos
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A prison chef with striking eyes.Clay Enos
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A prison guard.Clay Enos
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A Vietnamese soldier.Clay Enos
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A Vietnamese girl.Clay Enos
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Various costumes for the rebellious “knot top” characters.
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