Daily Picture Show

Watchmen: Portraits From The Set

TGIF, because Friday means movies. Watchmen, the film adaptation of the comic book written by Alan Moore, premieres today. Be sure to check out NPR's movie review. And to coincide with the film's release, Clay Enos has released a book of black-and-white portraits that he took on set as still photographer.

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Audio commentary from Watchmen illustrator Dave Gibbons.

To further explain the project, Enos submitted to a few questions.

Picture Show: Perhaps it's too easy to draw a comparison between your portraiture and that of Richard Avedon. Was there a direct influence there? If so, how is your work a departure?

Clay Enos: All artists work in the shadows of artists before them. I'd say comparisons with Avedon are the highest compliment. His American West series, despite its simplicity, was the work of many. He had people scouring the countryside casting his subjects, and I too benefited from a similar team effort.

I also think I'm influenced by Diane Arbus. Her work on the "fringes" of society has always inspired me. While I was making portraits of superheroes, I was equally enamored with the unsung heroes of Watchmen — the background cast, the crew, the folks whose effort and attentions are often overlooked in our celebrity-driven culture. My work only seems like a departure in that my photos are not retouched, not cropped, very straight images. And in this era of Photoshop, that seems unusual.

PS: Can you elaborate a bit on the process of making this photographic series?

I didn't do a lot of directing of my subjects. We often worked very quickly. I was doing these portraits on the periphery and was documenting, through portraiture, the world of Watchmen.

I think part of the allure of my book is that it vacillates between fiction and reality. The aesthetic is coded with authenticity and yet it also inhabits a more artistic realm. They definitely aren't head shots. My images aren't flattering, per se, but I hope they honor the subject. There's a difference between flattery and respect. I prefer to move and make photographs in the latter space.

PS: Maybe it's not surprising, but black and white seems an interesting choice for this photo series, as it's inspired by vivid illustrations (and a color motion picture).

I joked with Dave Gibbons, the illustrator of the graphic novel, that he created these folks in black and white and John Higgins colored them. Zack Snyder, the film's director, then made it all very real, and I returned them to the page in black and white. It's testament to all those folks before me that my images can stand on their own at all. I also just love black and white.

I was making a few portraits every day. Different lighting conditions and color temperatures would have been a distraction. Plus, nothing says "art" quite like black and white. People pause to consider a black-and-white photograph. That's what I was after. These images are like meditations on the world of Watchmen. And after you see the film, they become almost a sanctuary.

PS: If you could create a masked superhero for yourself, what would he be like?

CE: He'd be cape-free, armed and probably obsessed with taking pictures of his vanquished foes. And with any luck, he'd only be marginally dysfunctional.

All images (c) Clay Enos, Watchmen Portraits, Titan Books, 2009.

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