In 2005, while Atom Moore was freelancing as a photographer’s assistant and digital technician in New York, he did what many people at the time did in an effort to make ends meet.
“I looked for a job on Craigslist,” Mr. Moore, now 42, recalled last month during an interview at his photography studio in Manhattan’s East Village.
Before long, he found work at the Swatch store in Times Square, selling its inexpensive Swiss fashion watches despite having zero affinity for the product. “I had owned a couple of Timex Ironmans with the Indiglo lights,” Mr. Moore said. “But watches were not a thing that I gravitated towards.”
That was then. Today, Mr. Moore, who lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx with his wife, Brea Moore, is a professional photographer who has been cited by the likes of the leading watch platform Hodinkee as one of the best in the business. Best known for his macro images of wristwatches and artistic composites — as well as for his impressively long beard — he runs a busy freelance business serving clients that include auction houses, watch publications and brands ranging from boutique makers such as J.N. Shapiro to luxury players Grand Seiko and Vacheron Constantin.
In September, G-Shock, the cult watch model by the Japanese electronics company Casio, published a coffee-table book for its 40th anniversary featuring more than 300 original photos by Mr. Moore. He traveled to Japan last year to shoot models that were considered too rare to leave the brand’s facilities.
“In the realm of watch photography, Atom’s lens goes beyond mere documentation,” Tadashi Shibuya, vice president of the Casio USA Timepiece Division, wrote in an email. “It breathes life into G-Shock, transforming timepieces into art through his innovative, unique and creative perspective.”
During his visit, Mr. Moore captured an image of Kikuo Ibe, the Casio engineer known as “the father of G-Shock,” tossing an early prototype out of an upstairs bathroom window, re-creating the drop test that he had famously performed four decades ago.
“We didn’t realize the watch he chose was literally one of the original prototypes,” Mr. Moore said, remembering the shoot. “When the G-Shock employee who caught the watch looked in his hand, all of us were like, ‘This is a moment.’”
In recounting his professional trajectory, Mr. Moore highlighted many pivotal moments of his own, beginning with the photography class he took as a high school student in Northborough, Mass., west of Boston. That was where Mr. Moore, a native of nearby Southborough, discovered his love of the darkroom, “my happy place,” he said.
It’s also where Mr. Moore, whose given name is Adam, began signing his prints as “Atom.” (“I was just trying it out in high school,” he said. “It stuck and has become my alter art self and I fully embody it. It’s the me that I create.”)
He pursued photography at nearby Fitchburg State College (now University), where he studied with the photographer Peter Laytin. Mr. Laytin’s emphasis on artistic details and darkroom printing techniques informed Mr. Moore’s early projects, such as portraits of people covered in tattoos and piercings — “a little more on the fringes of society,” he said. (His own tattoos include one on his chest depicting a moon phase on a 1940s Universal Genève triple calendar wristwatch.)
Mr. Moore learned to shoot with film, but he found freelance work on the burgeoning digital photography scene, assisting professional photographers on editorial and fashion projects — “shooting anything and everything that was put in front of me,” he said.
In 2006, Mr. Moore traveled to Los Angeles for an assignment and met Kathleen McGivney, a tech consultant. Two years later, Mr. Moore and Ms. McGivney were married and living in New York (they divorced in 2019).
Neither of them had a particular interest in watches beyond the Swatches they owned. But that all changed in 2014 when a friend of Ms. McGivney’s, Adam Craniotes, invited them to a Midtown bar for a meetup of watch collectors known as RedBar.
“Adam invites us out, and we’re like, ‘Adam, we only have Swatches,’” Mr. Moore recalled. “And he’s like, ‘It’s totally fine, there are no snobs at RedBar.’”
When Mr. Moore and Ms. McGivney arrived, Mr. Craniotes told them to put their watches on a table. “This woman who I just met was like, ‘Oh, my God, I love Swatch,’” Mr. Moore said. “And she takes this Patek Philippe perpetual calendar off of her wrist, hands it to me, and says, ‘Let me see your Swatches.’
“This is the first time I’ve held a watch over $1,000,” he added. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what I have in my hands, but it’s got diamonds on the bezel, and it’s beautiful.’ The ‘no snobs’ thing was true.” (The meetups spawned what is now RedBar Group, a global community of watch collectors; Ms. McGivney is the group’s chief executive.)
Mr. Moore started bringing a camera to RedBar events, experimenting with different lights and flashes to capture the timepieces people were sharing. Slowly, he said, he began to develop a realistic style that was a sharp contrast to the manipulated images produced by brands.
“I wanted to help people understand what the watches actually looked like,” Mr. Moore said.
As his interest in watch photography grew, so did the opportunities to photograph them. At a RedBar event in 2014, Mr. Moore recalled, James Lamdin, founder of the vintage and pre-owned watch dealer Analog:Shift (now owned by the retail chain Watches of Switzerland), asked him to shoot some timepieces for the company’s website.
Mr. Moore ended up working for Analog:Shift for four years, including a two-year stint as its art director, a role that involved plenty of hands-on time with different versions of the same watch models — and helped spark an idea.
Drawing on his training as a digital tech, which required him to operate the computer tethered to the camera during shoots, Mr. Moore began playing around in Photoshop with his watch images, isolating details such as bezels, hands, lugs and other elements on and around the dial, then multiplying these elements and combining them to create large-scale composites that he printed on aluminum.
“I’d shot at least 20 different versions of Omega Speedmasters, Rolex Submariners or Rolex GMT-Masters and I started to put elements of the watches together just for fun,” he said. “I posted some of the early ones on Instagram.”
These mash-ups, as Mr. Moore called them, were featured in his first art photography exhibition, “Watch Portraits,” held in 2015 in a SoHo gallery.
The show also displayed his finest macro photos, highlighting singular elements such as a watchmaker’s signature on a dial or a forest of mechanical gears as seen through an open case back. “What I love about macro photography is that you’re seeing the little details that the watchmakers intended, but you may not have noticed before,” Mr. Moore said.
Nicholas Manousos, executive director of the Horological Society of New York, said Mr. Moore’s ability to capture those details combined with his knowledge of watchmaking is why the organization considers him its “go-to” photographer.
“Atom can see things that even watchmakers can’t see,” Mr. Manousos added. “A mechanical watch is a difficult thing to look at and understand and appreciate because it’s so small and everything is hidden and layered. What Atom does so well is make all that really visible and understandable.”
Since clients such as the society have turned Mr. Moore into one of the watch industry’s boldface names, a product collaboration was perhaps inevitable. In 2021, one of Mr. Moore’s clients — the watchmaker Roland G. Murphy, whose RGM Watch Company is based in Pennsylvania — approached him.
“Roland came to me and said, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about taking one of your artworks, your mash-ups, and making it into a real watch?’” Mr. Moore said. “And I was like, ‘Roland, all the time. I just never have.’
“I’m a photographer with A.D.H.D.,” he said, after recalling the conversation that kicked off the collaboration. “Finishing a project is difficult.”
Mr. Murphy offered some cases he had in stock for his secondary brand, Equation of Time. “We took a model I had and made a new dial, hands, and sourced a different movement,” he wrote in a recent email, of how the watch came together.
“Six months later,” Mr. Moore said, “we had a prototype.”
The partnership produced a 99-piece limited edition called Fat Arrow, introduced in September 2022 ($2,995). The model recreated one of Mr. Moore’s first mash-ups, scattering luminescent variations of the fat arrow that appeared on World War II British military watches across the dial of the new timepiece.
Mr. Moore’s studio is peppered with images of the watch and its inspiration, including the original aluminum print he created in 2015 and a hat that a friend made to celebrate the collaboration. On his wrist, however, he wears a sentimental choice: a Wakmann chronograph from the early 1970s that belonged to his father.
“I wear it on my right wrist even though I’m right-handed just because that’s how I’ve always done it,” he said. “As they say in the watch world, I’m a wrong wrister.”
Mr. Moore’s personal collection now numbers some 20 pieces, not including Swatches, with a heavy emphasis on vintage models and eclectic pieces by obscure independent brands, including S.U.F. by the Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva and Ochs und junior, a Swiss company that eschews branding. “They’re very austere,” Mr. Moore said. “They don’t even have their name on the watch.”
Looking ahead to 2024, Mr. Moore hopes to introduce a new collection of art photography, this time featuring an unexpected element. “I’m taking photos of watches, but I’m using organic substances, plants, as the thing that I’m mashing them up with,” he said. “Under great magnification, plants look vastly different than what you would expect. That is similar to watches.”
It’s all in keeping with Mr. Moore’s photography ethos, shifting perspectives to allow for new insights into his subjects. “My artworks,” he said, “intend for you to see watches in a different way.”