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@morgansaignes

When you grow up around art or with a practicing artist, you will probably become one yourself later in life. Maybe at the beginning, art has to be a part-time activity so that you can be able to pay the bills or make time and the necessary space to grow and mature as a creative. One day, a Gendarme (a French military police officer) will lay down his cap, pick up his camera, and let his artistic side take over in a bid to touch the sublime. He may begin crafting images of watches that would otherwise have never seen the light of day in public fora, letting his unique way of seeing light and imperfection populate his Instagram feed and amazing us with his photography. This story I’m obliquely referring to is about Morgan, a French military police officer by day, photographer by night (or, actually, by sunrise and sunset, as we’ll see later) for whom photographing watches has become a passion.

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It Was Meant to Be

 

What does the army have in common with watches? Purpose. Just as a police officer’s mission is to uphold the law and keep civilians safe, a watch has the purpose of helping us keep track of time and doing it reliably. Watches and the military have a long history together, especially as so many tool watches were first made for the military with specifications provided by the military. Think of the first dive watches or pilot watches that had to meet stringent criteria in order to fulfill their function. Watches made for the military have always been sturdy and simple in appearance and have used stark contrasts between the hands and dial to make time easy to read. No wonder, then, that Morgan would be attracted to these kinds of watches as a collector.  

 

Even though his very first ones were not tool watches (a Flik Flak and a digital Casio do not quite qualify), Morgan has always had a watch on his wrist. After the aforementioned timepieces, his horological tastes alternated between Festina, Diesel, and Calypso, none of which had more of a proper tool watch flair. Over the years, Morgan found it increasingly necessary to have a watch at hand, and despite joining the army, he did not shy away from wearing higher-quality watches on duty, even watches like the Rolex Explorer 1 or the Omega Speedmaster.   

 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. 

 

We must look at the transitional period between the Flik Flak and Morgan’s first “serious” watch. I put “serious” in parentheses because its definition is highly subjective. In Morgan’s case, a serious watch was one that cost a significant amount of money and was bought for a purpose. Back in high school, Morgan spotted one of his friends with a Speedmaster strapped to his wrist. Not a common sight by any means at that age (indeed, the friend had inherited the watch from his father and had not bought it on his own initiative), but Morgan found himself immediately hooked. Inevitably, he began asking himself how to get such a watch, but it would take Morgan several years to find an answer to that question. 

 

Despite the long years it took to follow up, Morgan’s friend had sparked a long-lasting passion for horology. After he had laid eyes on the Speedmaster, Morgan started reading up about watches, and his eyes soon wandered to contemplating the magnificence of the Rolex Submariner. His wallet being thin as it was, Morgan instead went through the typical early stages of watch collecting by acquiring G-Shocks and Seiko divers. He got himself an SKX007, a watch that was recognizable but nonetheless little known to him at first. Wearing the SKX prompted Morgan to look deeper into automatic watches, and as legend always has it, this was the beginning of the end for Morgan.

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The Evolution of a Collection

 

Let’s go back to the serious watch that Morgan would eventually purchase and would change things for the better. This purchase came in the form of the 41mm burgundy Tudor Black Bay. A great watch as a first staple in the collection, the Black Bay would set the stage for Morgan’s next round of watches to come, rugged tool watches from prominent brands that he uses the same way one would use a G-Shock or an SKX. What made the Tudor special to him was the fact that it had an in-house movement, something that maybe many collectors would gloss over but that he did not. Getting a watch with an in-house movement means getting a timepiece with a full history that comes in a complete package. 

 

I may be pushing the story far beyond what it is supposed to be here but I would speculate that getting such a watch meant something unique to Morgan. Military life requires having the right tools to carry out its mission, so getting a piece of equipment made from original, in-house technology means getting something that is authentic and fully-engineered to meet rigorous specifications. Considering the Tudor’s history with the Marine Nationale (the French navy), it is no surprise that someone like Morgan would want to own this kind of tool watch. At any rate, the Black Bay would be his main watch for the coming 18 months until he finally pulled the trigger and got the Speedmaster.

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As we know, the Speedmaster initiated Morgan’s passion for horology. It was just a matter of time before he would get one himself, even though many years had passed since he had seen his friend wearing one. While many of us can only dream of owning a specific watch that we lust for—in my case the Explorer 1—one would think that Morgan would baby the Speedmaster, his dream watch, but no, he actually doesn’t. He also doesn’t baby his other Swiss luxury sports watches, and that is something that I find fascinating. In a sense, Morgan is a modern-day military man for whom such watches used to be tailor-made, a watch meeting stringent specifications to be worn in the field, not collecting dust in a watch box. 

 

Imagine if all of the watches that had been made for Jacques Cousteau never went under water or if the Speedmaster had never made it to the moon. Although Rolex or Omega have not designed a watch for the French military police, Morgan wears them as if they had. Unbeknownst to him, it is the fact that I knew Morgan is in the military and that he wears his watches at work that prompted me to speak to him. Of course, that was after I found myself drawn to his honest and calm photography, but we will discuss that later. Truth be told, I like talking to people who wear their watches for their intended purposes. The same is true of his other watch, an Explorer 2 for which he got the money by selling his motorcycle on a whim. 

 

The last and current chapter of this watch collecting story brings us to his two most recent acquisitions: the 36mm Explorer 1 and the Serica 5303. After he had gotten the Burgundy Black Bay, Morgan wanted to have a dive watch that better fit his wrist, and so he sold the larger Black Bay to acquire the more reasonably-sized Serica 5303, the brand’s second model. Last but not least, Morgan then sold the Explorer 2 to buy the Explorer 1. Although no one will be able to predict what Morgan will do next, it seems that his collection is at a good stage at the moment. It’s populated by many rugged tool watches, each with its own flair and history. 

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When Photography Becomes a Passion

In the introduction, we mentioned that Morgan had grown up in a family of artists. The artist in question is his father, an engraver who had made a career in block printing. An art form that is by its very own nature a slow process, block printing forces the artist to inhabit the moment and take his time, gently making the artwork come to life. Growing up around such an artist exerted a profound influence on Morgan in ways that are both obvious and not so obvious to us. One obvious effect was Morgan’s eventual entry into creative activities himself. Before joining the French military police, Morgan got a degree in music and taught drums. Once he started collecting watches, Morgan started showing the artistic influences of his father. One not-so-obvious and indirect effect of his father’s work, then, was the particular way in which Morgan photographs watches, which he spent years contemplating.

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Before seriously committing to photographing watches, Morgan practiced photographing them with his phone. He did this for a while, later getting a camera when his fascination for photography had advanced far enough that it became a passion in itself. The entirety of his equipment for the first year and a half was a camera with a small zoom lens. Looking at his Instagram feed, we can see that Morgan is attracted to natural light and hard shadows, using the natural conditions the best he can. This means photographing watches with the right light at sunrise or sunset and sometimes using a softbox during the winter months when the light had vanished by the time he got home from work. 

 

Being now a passion, photographing watches has become an integral part of his horological journey. What sets his photos apart from others is how artistic they look. He prefers an imperfect photo with character to a perfect photo that is soulless. Again, I would be remiss if I didn’t make a connection with his father’s artwork and its gentle monochromatic aspect. All of Morgan’s photographs display a soft light and gentle contrasts that could be best described as cinematic lighting. Looking at his work feels akin to strolling through an art gallery by a famous photographer whose work shows continuity as well as the evolution of his collecting and artistry (qualities that explain why Morgan was featured in the 2021 edition of The Watch Annual).

 

Morgan’s passion for photography pushed him to teach himself a lot about taking and editing photos and how to use Lightroom by watching YouTube videos, a sign of dedication to his art. This dedication shows in the final product: from an aesthetic point of view, for example, he likes to give his photos a very fine grainy texture, which he learned to do during the editing process. I recently read that forging a career as a writer takes 30 percent writing and 70 percent editing. Morgan clearly spends a tremendous amount of time editing his photos. His editing process may not occupy 70 percent of editing time, but it still takes up a good amount of time nevertheless. Unsurprisingly, he was influenced by other watch photographers, for example @TheWatchDude2, whose influence is clearly visible in the use of natural light.

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A Love for the Community 

At the time of this writing, Morgan has a bit more than 4,200 followers on Instagram, a sure sign of success for those producing high-quality, artistic watch photography. As we mentioned earlier, his work was featured in The Watch Annual, a publication that promotes the best watch photography of the year, but not just any kind of photography. They feature the type of photography that inspires many of us, not only by its consistency but also by its artistic quality. Alongside Morgan, you find such photographers as @TheWatchDude2, @barkandjack, @watchstudies, and @jestacey, pretty good company to keep in our community. Being featured in The Watch Annual equals getting the recognition from the community that Morgan is more than just a watch collector: he’s an artist. 

 

The watch community is a special one. Known for being supportive and mutually inspiring, this community is what moves people like Morgan to photograph more, better, and highly consistently. He learns from the community, not only about how to take photos but also about watches. Then he teaches others how to take better photos and expand their horological knowledge. Photography of such quality does something unique: it takes a watch that has otherwise been overly photographed and then allows us to see it from a new angle, the perspective of a person who owns it and photographs it. This makes that watch that we would have overlooked a thing of fresh interest. 

 

What’s more, the watch community has also made it possible for Morgan to continue perfecting his craft. He takes pride in creating consistently good content and it shows. He doesn’t rest on his laurels and ups the ante with himself by getting a better camera and being inspired by others in the field to improve his game. Not only was he inspired to photograph a certain way by others, he was also inspired to get better props and surfaces on which to photograph his watches. He was further inspired to take his watches out of his house and on field trips, using his friends as models to photograph tool watches by the sea or on hikes.

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Conclusion

Collecting watches and wanting to tell people about them on Instagram requires photographing them. While there are many who are content with a simple iPhone wrist shot, people like Morgan take this necessary process to a whole new level. Not only did he teach himself to photograph, but he also taught himself to photograph better and invest in this new art form by getting more equipment and continuously improving the craft. He has gotten to the point where he’s been asked to photograph brand collections as he recently did for the Paris-based brand Serica. Morgan takes pride in his photography, as he should. And he finds it amusing when people were under the impression that he was a professional photographer. Why wouldn’t he be? 

 

Thanks for reading.