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Published on March 4th, 2009 | by simeon

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Clay Enos Talks About Photographing “Watchmen”

Recently I had the chance to ask photographer Clay Enos about his work as the official photographer for “Watchmen” I want to thank Clay for taking the time to answer our question and for Kim Pasion at THA for making this happen.

GVK: How did you get involved with Zack on the project and what other films have you documented in the past?

CE: Watchmen was my first job as still photographer on a feature film. I was asked by the filmmakers to shoot for them because they knew my work and my approach. They knew that when I have a camera in my hand I move with an intention and focus that would serve them well. They were well aware of the project’s importance and wanted it documented. I was their guy to do it, and to hopefully, over-deliver.

GVK: As a follow up, can you please tell the readers how you got your start and training in photography?

CE: I have a BFA in film and photography. And that degree provided a base for further photographic inquiry. I was always enamored by the power of non-fiction, by the early Life Magazine photographers, by the idea of documenting my reality. To be able to do that as a career just seemed logical. I definitely wasn’t born to be a mathematician!

GVK: What sort of preparations did you do before the project and how familiar were you with the source material before getting the job?

CE: I read the graphic novel only after I was hired. Right after that, I put it down and picked up the latest shooting script and read that. None of it, however, could have prepared me for what would ensue. Filmmaking, especially on this scale, I a massively collaborative art form and I was smack in the middle of it. Every corner of every set was a remarkable study in art direction and craft. Every face of every actor was perfectly cast and equally adorned and coiffed. It was a photographer’s dream to be plopped in the middle of the world of watchmen, a wonderfully layered and nuanced universe. And then with a slight tilt or pan of my lens, I could explore with equal wonder, the makings of that universe. Everything was fodder for my lens.

GVK: Taking on a project as big as “Watchmen” must have been a daunting task, what were some of the concerns you had starting out and what were your biggest goals for the project?

CE: Daunting or just exciting? Once the wave is cresting you have two choices, surf it or let it crash upon you. We chose the former. The assembled professionals and visionaries all brought their A-game. Only now is it sinking in as to what we did. For me, it’s wild to travel around New York City (my hometown) and see my photographs adorning what seems like every other billboard. It’s the biggest I’ve ever seen my work and it’s very humbling and thrilling at the same time.

GVK: There have been a lot of changes in recent years in camera technology with the transition from film to digital. What cameras did you use for the project and do you prefer the old style cameras that did not do as much of the work?

CE: I shot with 2 Nikon D200 cameras. Nothing special. While I don’t miss the old film cameras I still work with those sensibilities. I keep my images unretouched, and limit Photoshop to burning and dodging. A good photograph needn’t be a complicated thing. Natural light is my favorite and almost all my portraits are made with just that.

GVK: How was working with Zack and the other cast members and what were some moments that stood out?

CE: Zack is a delight. His energy and vision inspired everyone. While I have no prior experience with film sets, it was obviously in talking with the other crew members that our environment was distinctively great and that all stems from the top.

GVK: With such a visually distinctive film how did you balance capturing the look of the film while infusing your own creative interpretations?

GVK: My portraits are really a testament to the great work of casting directors, costume designers, hair and make-up artists, etc. I simply framed them and captured a fleeting moment between us. Portraits are a lovely way to see and experience a place. It’s just something I love to do and I wouldn’t be being honest with myself if I didn’t make them on set.

GVK: How many days were you on set?

CE: I was on set for all 106 days of shooting.

GVK: As a follow up how much time pre and post filming did you have for the project?

CE: I was there for 3 weeks prior to shooting and things were already well underway. I stayed until the filming wrapped. Then there was another year of post-production but I only came to visit those folks. Not to take pictures.

GVK: With your character portraits, what did you attempt to capture about each character and did you have a favorite?

CE: I simply captured the world of watchmen in the context of the filming of watchmen. It’s a somewhat convoluted thing to have cast and crew mixed together. Just as the graphic novel blurs lines between fiction and reality, so to did my portrait efforts. I don’t give a lot of instruction so if someone wanted to assume character I’d treat them the same was as someone just standing there with some gear in their hands. It’s an artistic document and interpretation of the film version of Watchmen.

GVK: What does black and white photography offer as opposed to color in your opinion?

CE: It moves the viewer into a more critical space. It is coded with authenticity while more easily inhabiting the deeper imagination. There’s something remarkably timeless about black and white photographs. I just love it and took all of the portraits with that in mind.

GVK: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently and if so what?

CE: I wish I’d known just how hard and time consuming filmmaking is. I didn’t talk to any of my friends outside Watchmen for 5 months. I was eating sleeping breathing watchmen. It was really an amazing amount of work. I’m glad I spent that time on something of such merit. A romantic comedy just wouldn’t have been worth the effort.

GVK: What projects do you have upcoming?

CE: I’ll be working on Zack’s next project, Sucker Punch. Until then, I hope to find work that is equally stimulating and meaningful.

GVK: Thank you,

CE: Thank you!

For more information on Clay, please visit his site at http://www.clayenos.com

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