All of the watch photographers on Instagram I admire have one important thing in common: they take their time. They first get in a zone, that state of mind that allows them to connect with their collection and to plan the kind of shot they see in their mind’s eye. Out of this method comes a certain type of photography that I am deeply and viscerally drawn to. Michael—a.k.a. @m.adcock81—is one of a group of 15–20 photographers whose work can best be described in the following way: romantic lifestyle watch photography (spoiler alert: I’m working on an article about this movement of watch photography). As we will see, Michael has had a particular relationship with horology, and he has designed his artistic process to match it.
Orbiting Around Creativity
If you are familiar with the profiles series here, you will know that we like to take a look at how the protagonists of these stories came about getting into watch collecting. More often than not, the collector being profiled grew up in a family where a parent collected watches or gifted them a watch as a child. Michael got both: his mother gave him a blue dial Fossil watch at age 15 that he wore religiously all throughout high school, and his dad wore a 1967 Omega Speedmaster during his entire childhood. A Speedmaster is no Casio F91W, and as I recently saw in the movie “The Adam Project,” a Speedmaster is always a watch that a dad wears and a kid inherits (another interesting inheritance story takes place in Christopher Nolan’s film “Interstellar,” in which Cooper’s daughter, Murph, inherits a Hamilton Khaki Pilot). Michael did inherit the Speedmaster, a watch that he has always cherished and given a special place in his collection.
What made this particular Speedmaster even more important is who was wearing it and the kind of man Michael’s dad was. Michael grew up in Lansing, Michigan an hour away from Detroit where his dad started his professional career as a self-taught architect before getting his pilot’s license and embarking on a life-long passion of buying and restoring old cars. He became so knowledgeable about the world of cars that he finished his professional life as the director of an automobile museum in the same city. Michael and his dad used to go to car shows together, and young Michael would help his dad around the museum. Throughout his years as a builder and museum director, Michael’s dad wore the 1967 Speedmaster. In a sense, Michael got to witness history being engraved on the Speedmaster before it got passed on to him.
From age 25 to age 32, Michael was a chef. After graduating from high school, he joined a culinary school and began his own professional life in restaurant kitchens, doing hard work just like his dad did. I’m no professional cook, but I can only begin to imagine how difficult that job must be, but even such environments as this still manage to encourage the flourishing of creativity. I imagine Michael preparing new recipes the same way an engineer think-tanks his future invention before testing it out. Cooking, photography, and home design all have one critical thing in common: preparation, an element that has always played a big part in Michael’s creative life. The last thing you should know about being a chef is that it is a demanding job, and people often burn out. Michael did too, and in 2014, he moved back home to start a new life.
Although his new career as a welder for General Motors probably was not as creative as being a chef, it shared something in common with his previous profession: it’s an honest job where you can get good work done for honest pay. It also gave him more time to reconnect with horology. After all, Michael could not stop thinking about watches after getting his dad’s Speedmaster, but his life as a chef denied him the time and space to enter into the watch collecting life. We are all lucky, then, that Michael decided to change careers because it gave him the space to start collecting watches and publish his naturally lit, zen watch photos on Instagram.
Michael and Watches
As we know, watches became something important for Michael at age 15 when he was gifted his first watch, the Fossil. This is the part of the story where I would normally tell you all about the person’s collection in detail, which watch was acquired first and second, which one was the first “major” purchase. I’m going to take a different path here because it is not Michael’s collections that interests me the most. It’s what watches mean to him.
Undoubtedly, Michael, just like his dad, likes to wear watches, and he connects to them in how he wears them and the kind of watch he wears. In other words, he places a lot of emotional value on watches, so much so that he would rather lose a limb than sell his dad’s 1967 Speedmaster (I actually didn’t ask him that, I’m just speculating here). For Michael as for many of us, watches are a way to connect to the people we love.
There’s still much more to this story to tell, though. Michael and I share a similar vision of what watches are and what they mean. I remember my dad wearing one of his three core watches each day. He was actually a three-watch collection kind of guy with a 1968 Rolex Submariner for work, a Breitling Navitimer for the weekend, and a Cartier Tank for special occasions. I grew up seeing my dad wear all three watches on a regular basis. Each day I would see my dad come back from work wearing his Submariner, a watch he has therefore worn for decades working day after day earning an honest living. Similarly, Michael saw his dad come back from work and take off his Speedmaster after a long, hard day. We both saw it this way: a working man, a father, and a gentleman wearing a nice watch.
Just like a gentleman, Michael doesn’t spend more than he earns on his hobbies, and especially on watches. He said that he would never buy a watch on credit and would only buy it if he could afford it.
This is an important lesson to all of us. We often hear people talk about the fact that we should only buy the watches we can afford, which is true, as doing the opposite robs us of the enjoyment of the experience. Buying something on credit means we don’t really own it, and taking financial risks by buying a watch we cannot afford means we will feel guilty about wearing it, again removing the enjoyment from the experience of owning said watch.
Now, Michael’s Instagram feed and collection show many luxury watches, but he took his time to acquire each of them.
In the introduction, we spoke about the fact that Michael likes to take his time and that it is what makes his photography stand out. Michael, just like Allan (@TheWatchDude2), Kim (@Lar5erik) and Jens (@a_watchguys_life), makes the process of photographing watches a thing, and his photos come out great because of it.
Slowing Down with Watches
When he was a chef, Michael had little or no time for doing anything else besides cooking. The career switch back in 2014 created time for pursuing a hobby. Since he had had an interest in watches, he therefore decided to try photographing them during his time off. He developed a ritual for doing so organized around the rhythm of his personal and professional lives. Michael now works a late shift, which means he doesn’t start work until the afternoon. Each weekday morning, Michael drops off his kids at school and immediately returns to his photo studio, which he installed in the basement of his house. That’s when the magic begins.
Michael likes to start his session by brewing himself a nice cup of coffee and by turning the television on to create some background sound. He leafs through the pages of his favorite watch magazines, looking for inspiration and imagining what kind of shots he wants to produce during the day’s session. He catches a glimpse of a print from @TheWatchDude2 that he bought from him and framed, takes a look at his watch box, picks a watch, and starts shooting. He can shoot for two hours straight hoping to get five or six good photos for Instagram. After the shoot, he sits down somewhere comfortable and edits his photos using his smartphone (Michael doesn’t own a laptop). Just like the chef he was, inspecting the dish before sending it out to the dining room, he becomes critical of himself and aims to get the best editing done possible.
Like the photographers he and we admire, Michael prefers to shoot using natural light. He explained that doing so forces you to slow down and to photograph better. He likes to keep his props simple so that they don’t distract the viewer’s eyes from the watches themselves. His shots are clean and well lit and make it seem as if I was right there with him photographing the watches myself. His photos have a feeling of honest passion for the hobby and of dedication to the artistic process, which is apparent in his work. Each photo he takes is better than the previous one, just like a dish that becomes better each time we prepare it.
His Thoughts on Instagram
Before getting into watches and Instagram in 2020, Michael didn’t have any experience with social media. It is his passion for horology that drove him to create an account on the platform so that he could find out information about them. He didn’t think that photographing watches was an actual thing—and I can relate to that, now that I realize it is a proper art form—but now he’s happy he made this discovery. That’s how he came across the work of @TheWatchDude2 and @Lar5erik, who have inspired him to get good at the craft, a craft he taught himself in his basement. Before photographing watches for Instagram, he had no experience with a camera, but Michael has always been a true self-made man who takes his passion for horology as seriously as he took his career as a chef, just like his dad took his jobs as an architect, car collector, and museum director seriously.
It’s amazing how much we can teach ourselves when we’re motivated to share our passion with a community.
Speaking of which, it is the watch community that has kept his motivation alive and growing since 2020. He learns as he teaches, although he didn’t realize at first that he was also influencing others on Instagram. He was dumbfounded when he realized that 1,000 people were following him, which is when he realized that he was doing something right. To be honest, though, Michael humbly believed (and still does) that most people follow him because of how nice of a collection he has. I would disagree with him on that. Even though he has over 11,000 followers, he doesn’t see himself as an actual watch photographer. To him, he’s merely a dedicated hobbyist. Having a Rolex in one’s collection is not a means to an end in this hobby; you’ve got to be good at talking about them and photographing them like Michael is.
As we always do, I asked Michael if he earns money from Instagram. He does not, but he got offered a watch roll once and recently got a watch deck, which he photographed for his account. As luck would have it, these were two products that he was planning on buying himself anyway. He will not photograph a product that might be offered to him otherwise as he knows that he would feel compelled to photograph it, and that would have gotten in the way of his creativity.
He certainly doesn’t lack for daily requests for collaborations, but what drives Michael to photograph watches is the pleasure he gets from sitting down with them and talking about his collection with the community. He’s so uninterested in likes and the number of his followers that he turns off the like counter on his posts.
There’s a lot to learn from each person we write about on Mainspring. I for one get better at photographing watches after each conversation I have with people who are massively more talented than me. I also get better at writing about their stories because I am learning more about why I like watches through the stories they share. I learn from them as they have learned from others, and this is what is best about horology: it’s all about the community and the people who make up the thousands of people who follow Michael and whom Michael follows in return. Michael is an integral part of this community, and I’m so glad to have been able to write his story.
Michael shared that since he read our story about @TheWatchDude2, he started carrying his camera more often so that he would have more opportunities for capturing a great shot, great lighting, or a great mood. Michael is always trying to perfect his craft by continuously trying out new things. He recently bought new furniture to create a different kind of background for his shots. And he’s always striking conversations with watch collectors and photographers on Instagram to keep his learning on.
Thanks for reading.