Visual Anthropolgist: Photojournalist DOUG MENUEZ

By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on August 22, 2010

HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) – Doug Menuez, master photojournalist, was born in Texas. His father moved the family to the south side of Chicago to work for the community organizer, Saul Alinsky. They moved again to Long Island where his father continued working as an organizer. His mother counseled conscientious objectors to the Viet Nam war. Doug studied art and photography at the San Francisco Art Institute and San Francisco State University, graduating from SFSU with a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism. Upon graduating from SFSU in 1981, Menuez began an internship at The Washington Post.

Menuez worked as a photojournalist from 1979 to the middle of the 1990’s and accepted editorial assignments for a variety of magazines and newspapers. These assignments included the 1984-85 Ethiopian famine, the Olympics, the Amazon, the World Series, presidential campaigns, Silicon Valley, and the AIDS crisis. He is an award-winning documentary, editorial, and advertising photographer whose work has been featured in publications such as Time, Newsweek, Life, People, Fortune, and USA Today as well as in ad campaigns for Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Nikon, Hewlett-Packard, Northwest Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Bank of America, Siemens, Nokia and many other global brands.

Menuez, who has been honored by the Cannes Festival, the AOP London, Graphics, and Communication Arts, has published two Monographs (Heaven, Earth, Tequila, 2005 and Transcendent Spirit: The Orphans of Uganda, 2008); his photos were in included in nine Day in the Life books. These commissions allowed him to finance his personal fine art documentary work, including his most recent book project, Transcendent Spirit: The Children of Uganda. The forward to the book is written by Dame Elizabeth Taylor.

Doug spent twenty-five intense years traversing the globe after leaving art school for photojournalism, becoming one of the most successful advertising photographers in the US. At times he traveled 200,000 miles per year. He managed his own commercial photography studio in the San Francisco Bay Area until 2004.

Menuez’s project “Fearless Genius,” for which he devoted fifteen years to documenting more than 70 companies in Silicon Valley in the 1980’s and ’90’s, is part of the Douglas Menuez Photography Collection at Stanford University Libraries.

Between 1988 and 1995, Menuez documented the corporate life and the early development of PDF and the development of Adobe Photoshop at Adobe Systems San Jose, California.

From 1986 to 1988, Doug Menuez documented Steve Jobs’ new company NeXT Inc. and its development and launch of the NeXT Computer for Life magazine. At Apple Computer, Doug documented various projects including the Apple Newton from its early stages in 1992 to its launch in 1993. In 1992, Menuez published, with Markos Kounalakis, the book Defying Gravity: The Making of Newton.

The 250,000 photographs Menuez shot, documenting Silicon Valley from 1986 to 2000, are now archived in the Douglas Menuez Photography Collection at Stanford University Library.

Doug is currently working on a new book on Silicon Valley and lives in New York with his family.

In this video Doug explains his life and latest venture:

MENUEZ.MOV

Introduced by their mutual friend Film Prodcuer, David Mendez, Herald de Paris Deputy Managing Editor, Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, had a chance to spend some time with Doug.

AC: What was your first experience with a camera? When did you know that it would be your art, passion and life’s work?

DM: When I was ten my father gave me an old rangefinder camera and I became truly obsessed. I would shoot Tri-X and take it to the drug store to be developed. At twelve I built a darkroom. At fourteen, I was shooting anti-war demonstrations and walking the streets of NYC looking for pictures and learning. I apprenticed in a studio at fifteen and certainly by then I knew I would make a life in photography somehow.

AC: You have the unique ability and genius to capture a moment that speaks thousands of words and incite and inspire emotion. How do you know when it’s time to click the shutter? Do you have a 6th sense?

DM: Well I may not deserve that lavish praise but I sure try. Lately I’ve gotten more spiritual. It just seems so amazing to me, and extremely difficult, to actually capture a moment that works on every level in the way you want. I sometimes feel there is some higher power guiding me. When I’m really concentrating on a shoot I go into a kind of deep trance and sometimes it feels as if some unseen hand is actually tugging at me, turning my head so I’ll see the picture. Like a gift. Every moment I get is a gift.

AC: Your parents were socially active. How did their philosophy and lifestyles affect you while going to school?

DM: I was a bad student for the most part. Smart enough to get by but, despite my parents love, they had a lot going on and I was, in effect, raising myself. I left home at sixteen and did a lot of things I regret, like most of my peers. I also had a blues band which was a path to nowhere at that time. Photography and deciding to truly commit my life to that work got me to college. I ended up at the San Francisco Art Institute trying to become an artist and working full time at odd jobs.

AC: What was your college experience like? Good/bad/boring?

DM: Art school definitely was a low point. I dropped out and ended up going back creating my own major at San Francisco State in photojournalism – combining fine art classes with visual anthropology and the normal journalism degree program. That turned out to be very fulfilling and fundamental to the breakthroughs that came my way shortly after graduation. But overall, school was a nightmare for me and not just boring, it was torture. Luckily, I found a few amazing teachers who saw something in me and guided me forward.

AC: I am told you sometimes traveled 200,000 miles a year taking photos around the world. What were the best and worse parts of that lifestyle?

DM: The best is the constant state of entering an unknown world, being a stranger in a strange land, connecting with strangers and learning new cultures. The worst part is being away from family and friends, the fatigue and constant sense of being alone. Plus air travel has become horrific. It used to be a blast to fly. I still love it when the jet takes off toward the next assignment, though.

AC: Do you see yourself as a global citizen because of your travels? How did other cultures view you as an American artist? Love, hate, trust, mistrust?

DM: Yes I do feel part of a global society. I identify with other cultures more than my own sometimes. I saw the play American Idiot on Broadway last night and the overwhelming feeling is just sadness at what a hollow, shallow, uneducated sick country we have created here in the US.

On the other hand, America still has the Constitution and that can’t be matched anywhere so you have to find the balance. There are many things in other cultures equally sad and even more regressive. As an American I’ve been viewed with hatred, with total love, with suspicion and everything else over the last thirty years depending on the country and the US policies in that region. You can’t understand what’s going on around the world if you don’t go there and most Americans have no idea what our impact can be on the world, good or bad.

AC: Because of your work and travels have you ever had your life threatened or imperiled in any way?

DM: Yes, several times, and once in Sudan specifically because I was an American.

AC: After circling the globe being where the action is, isn’t a normal family life boring? Did you ever feel the need to hit the road again? Does your wife understand who you are and what you need to do?

DM: The action in the field and travel is one thing that satisfies some need of mine, but it turns out my family is far and away the most important thing to me. Trying to create balance between the work I am compelled to do and making time for my family has been the biggest struggle of my life. This is more of a struggle than trying to do great work despite my limitations. Family is never boring, that’s for sure. Waiting in airports or for a rock star to show up, that’s boring!

AC: How have camera technologies changed over the years? Can’t anyone take mediocre photos then fix them with Photoshop?

DM: You still need to have an eye or learn how to “see.” Digital cameras are just another tool like all tools. More people can take better pictures and a lot can be done with Photoshop. But there is still some magic to making an image that connects with people in a way where they actually remember that image. Most of what you see today is crap and will be gone in ten seconds.

AC: You are probably one of the best known photographers in the world. Which photographers inspired you and why?

DM: My early and constant inspirations include Elliott Erwitt, Sebastiao Salgado, Henri Cartier Bresson, Mary Ellen Mark, Dennis Stock, Irving Penn, Steichen, W. Eugene Smith, but there are so many. And many, many contemporary photographers just blow me away.

AC: In 1985 you began shooting the genesis of the computer revolution. Do you have any regrets being on the creative side of things when many of your peers went on to become billionaires?

DM: No regrets about that at all, only joy that I thought it was worth shooting at the time. Money comes and goes but what do you leave behind? I do care that my images are useful on some level. And my work about Silicon Valley can provide historic context for an important era.

AC: How do you view new media as a tool for the visual artist and storyteller? Because of its accessibility, many artists are ripped off and not paid for their work. How can that be rectified?

DM: I still believe in copyright and that artists must be able to feed their families from their work. The current world rewards stealing work so that’s crazy to me. I don’t get that and will continue to fight for copyright. New media is not the problem; it’s our value system and ethics that have been corrupted.

AC: Tell us about the book and how you got Dame Elizabeth Taylor to write the forward.

DM:I was introduced to the remarkable kids in my book through an amazing man at Macy’s San Francisco who organizes their AIDS fashion fundraiser every year. Ms. Taylor is a friend of his. He introduced us, she agreed very quickly and wrote a fantastic intro. I will always be grateful. So far we’ve raised over 100K for the kids with the book and print sales.

AC: Tell us about your Silicon Valley project showing at Stanford.

DM: Stanford Library acquired my archive in 2004. The centerpiece of that is my fifteen year documentary work behind the scenes in Silicon Valley from 1985-2000. It started with a three year photo essay on Steve Jobs as he struggled to build the NeXT computer. I ended up shooting many other companies and innovators as they invented the technology that led to the digital era and changed our world. More jobs and wealth were created by these people than at any time in history.

AC: Tell us about your film.

DM: We are shooting a documentary film based on the still photos I did mixed with current interviews and live action of the various innovators that I covered back in the day. They will provide context for understanding what happened during those heady days of invention and help us see the future through their eyes.

AC: What about the non-profit?

DM: We have a non-profit foundation formed now to raise the funding for both the film and the book about Silicon Valley. All profits will go to education. We hope to inspire the next generation of engineers. Hopefully, that generation can fix our generation’s continued destruction of the planet.

AC: What are some of the projects you hope to do in the future?

DM: Right now we are trying to raise funds for the Fearless Genius film. After that I have a film I’m trying to finish about immigrants coming to NYC and the proverbs they bring from home called “The Wisdom of New York” – and a list of other projects a mile long.

AC: Do you want to be remembered as the next Ansel Adams?

DM: In regard to the “next Ansel Adams” question, that’s very funny because there is this huge raging controversy right now over some supposedly lost negatives of his. I am also a huge fan and admirer of his work, which also inspired me. But my main focus is on the human experience and so I shoot people mainly. The landscape is however one of the most important and overlooked experiences a human can enjoy. I do landscapes when I see them but just as an outlet. I should look into this as a future project! I would like to be known as the “first” me, rather than the “next” me….

AC: How can people know more about you and help further your causes?

DM: You can visit my site at www.menuez.com, choose “commissions” and then you can find my bio if interested. From there if you explore “Books” where you will find the Transcendent Spirit book. Buy it and learn more about the AIDS orphans in Uganda project. You can also visit empowerafricanchildren.com and donate there.

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Edited By, Susan Aceves


Comments
Johnny Hernandez August 22, 2010

A most excellent, thought provoking article about the artist and his work Dr. Hernandez!
“New media is not the problem; it’s our value system and ethics that have been corrupted.” ~ Doug Menuez
“I still believe in copyright and that artists must be able to feed their families from their work.” ~Doug Menuez

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