Keeping a Close Watch

March 28, 2024
Atom Moore '05 has turned his admiration for precision into a career.
Moritz Grossmann watch photo by Atom Moore
Moritz Grossmann watch, photograph by Atom Moore '05.

Atom Moore has long admired precision, with a natural interest in mechanical objects. A photography class in high school sparked another interest, so when college beckoned, the Southborough native looked for schools where he could further his knowledge in that arena. Fitchburg State fit the bill.

Now a celebrated professional photographer with a defined niche creating artistic pictures of watches, Moore credits his training under Professor Emeritus Peter Laytin at Fitchburg State as foundational to his development.

“I do art with my photography, but I’m not a painter, and I don’t draw,” Moore said. “Those particular things kept me from going to art school. There are many schools that could have given me those things. But that’s not the way I wanted to go. I specifically wanted photography.”

Moore navigated his educational training as the photography world was in the midst of a paradigm shift from film to digital. It’s a different way of working, but Moore said skills he learned at Fitchburg State were transferable.

“I was one of the last generation of students who learned in the darkroom, and then went out into the professional world and was thrown into the fire of digital,” he said. “I think it’s a great boon for my photography in general, because I learned that when you take a photo on film, you have to get things right or you don’t get the photo at all. Without that, you don’t have the discipline.”

Moore completed his undergraduate internship in New York City with photographer Peter Jennings, a proponent of the possibilities of digital photography. While Moore had several internship sites to choose from, he decided to go with Jennings because he felt he could learn a lot about the emerging format. 

MB and F Space Pirate photo by Atom Moore
The MB&F Space Pirate, photographed by Atom Moore '05

He was right. Moore followed his internship with a job as an assistant and digital tech (assisting the photographer by running the computer while shooting tethered). He also worked in the rental department of a professional camera store, where he learned even more about the tools of his chosen trade.

Moore’s explorations included assisting in fashion photography, but it was working in product photography that he found real resonance. Making pictures of products allowed his detail-oriented nature to shine. “I love macro photography, getting closer than what the eye can see,” he said. “My training with Peter helped a lot with that, because he taught lighting technique in a very excellent way. Understanding lighting, even though I learned it on film, was absolutely integral to being a good photographer in general. It doesn’t matter if you’re film or digital, learning lighting is really the thing that brings anyone much further along in their career.”

Moore found work photographing jewelry, and transitioned into watches. He later connected with a watch collector group “in the basement of some dark bar here in New York City,” where he was the only professional photographer. “I was getting all sorts of access to watches and hearing stories about why they collect certain pieces,” he said. “What watches are is tiny mechanical art. As I got to understand more and more about watches, I got more into collecting them myself.”

And he got connected with other collectors. “When I transitioned full-time into watch photography, it was a combination of being in the right place and the right time. I tell people I’m a watch photographer; that’s a niche within a niche.”

Casio G Shock photo by Atom Moore
Casio G Shock, photographed for watch's 40th anniversary by Atom Moore '05

Finding that niche has been professionally successful for Moore, who has had solo exhibitions of his photography in New York City, the National Watch and Clock museum in Pennsylvania, and Hong Kong. Late last year he was profiled in the New York Times.

Moore said others interested in photography should start with the fundamentals, as he did at Fitchburg State. “For me now it’s second nature to do all the calculations in my head, about F stop and shutter speed,” he said, describing camera functions that are essential to making a good picture. “I’m not a person who's good at math, but photography, it was ingrained into me. You need to learn the fundamentals so you don't have to think about them, so you can focus your professional abilities directly on the things that are in front of you, and not have to think about what’s around you. If you really focus on the fundamentals first, you can find your own niche.”

His other essential career advice is to be open to new experiences. “Put yourself out there,” Moore said. “For me, right after I finished my internship I got the job at the rental house, and at the same time I was pushing myself into the world of photo assisting. I spent 10 years assisting on top of doing my personal work, which let me make a living in the industry. Being willing to do the work from the bottom up is a great way to get where you want to be. It’s not going to be overnight, but the reality is once you get out into the professional world, it’s all about who you know.”