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Doug Menuez, Photographer

Doug Menuez is an award-winning photographer whose career over 30 years has ranged from photo journalism to documentary film. He gained exclusive, unprecedented access to record the rise of Silicon Valley from 1985-2000 and documented the lives of its most brilliant innovators, including three years with Steve Jobs, as well as covering Bill Gates, John Warnock (Co-founder of Adobe Systems Inc.), Carol Bartz (former president and CEO of Yahoo!, and former chairman, president, and CEO of Autodesk), Andy Grove (Co-founder and the CEO of Intel Corporation), John Sculley (CEO of Apple Inc.) and Bill Joy (Co-founder of Sun Microsystems) during an era when more jobs and wealth were created than at any time in human history. The driving concern of all his work is to explore and reflect the realities of the human condition. After launching his career as a photojournalist in 1981 at The Washington Post, he became a regular assignment photographer for Time, Newsweek, LIFE, USA Today, Fortune, and many other publications worldwide.

Who are you?
It appears that I’m sort of a messenger and a witness.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?
An artist.

What do you love?
Driving fast, Chicago blues, Brazilian drumming, solitude. Because those things restore me.

Where do you find inspiration?
It can come from anywhere. Usually it’s from a great film or the work of a painter or photographer whose work I had not seen before. So many talents.

What’s your creative process?
The core of my process is not so much a process as a practice. When I’m shooting ideally I’m able to create a space for myself to disappear into a zen-like state of hyper awareness. I am watching and waiting and if I’m doing it right I get into a zone and moments happen right in front of me. Boom. This starts with humility and being open to my subjects and recognizing that I know nothing really, past experience gets you so far but today can be very different. And every photo that means something to me costs something, maybe a conversation, respect for your subject, or maybe your life.

I approach every project or assignment first through research and reading, talking to everyone I can who has been there or knows the subject.

What is something you had to learn the hard way?
The power of saying no to things that you don’t want to do.

Favorite camera?
Leica M9

What is one thing most people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I’m pretty introverted. I’m an extroverted Introvert or something like that.

How do you define success?
Living your life with as much grace and kindness as possible while pursuing the thing that makes you the happiest to be doing. Pretty hard. If you find yourself in a state where your bills are paid and you are making images that you are proud of, then that’s pretty cool.

What’s the best advice you have for aspiring photographers?
Find out what really drives you — what got you interested in photography in the first place? Some call this finding your voice. This might take a lifetime, but start defining what you are passionate about and building a portfolio of the purest version of that. Then go and learn basic business and marketing skills, write a business plan with your mission statement defining your absolute perfect dream, capitalize the dream and go make it happen. Most young shooters start out taking any and all jobs to pay the bills and we all have to do that to some degree, but that’s a mindless panic driven approach. Recognize that early success doing something you actually hate is a deadly trap that will be hard to leave. And if you follow my advice you’ll probably fail. But if you want to be living the dream, you have to go through the process I’m advising at some point in your life, or marry well.

What makes a great photo?
No idea, but I know it when I see it. But if you go back and look at pictures that you remember, that are memorable, usually there are elements of powerful emotion, mystery, energy, unresolved conflict, some use of Aristotle’s golden mean…

We live in a pretty complicated time, politically, environmentally, socially…how do you think we can make the world a better place?
The hard thing is to develop a moral code, which is part of your character, and try to stick to that. Not easy at all to do. And you have to realize also that fanaticism in service of doing good often ends up as bad as it gets. Your good may not be my good. So as you go along with your own beliefs, be tolerant and compassionate as best you can. Also hard to do.

In general, you can look at your own actions and see if you are contributing something positive to the world, or not. I do believe in karma, so as much as I might fuck up from time to time, I do try to give back what I can to the world. I’ve been given a lot.

Doug Menuez Notes:
Menuez’ books include the bestseller, 15 Seconds: The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1989, coproduced with David Elliott Cohen, which generated more than five hundred thousand dollars in relief money for earthquake victims, Defying Gravity: The Making of Newton , Beyond Words Publishing, 1993, Heaven, Earth, Tequila: Un Viaje al Corazón de México , Waterside Press, 2005 and Transcendent Spirit: The Orphans of Uganda , from Beaufort Books, NY, 2008, with an introduction by Dame Elizabeth Taylor, and has raised over one hundred thousand dollars to date for Ugandan AIDS orphans. Stanford University Library acquired his extensive archive of over 1 million photographs for their collection. His next project, Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution 1985-2000 will be published in May 2014 by Simon & Schuster’s Atria imprint and is in production as a film, app, exhibit and non-profit education program. The first exhibition of Fearless Genius opened in Moscow at the Multimedia Arts Museum Photo biennale in March 2012 and continues to travel worldwide. Menuez is on the Advisory Board of Directors of the Woodstock Center for Photography and divides his time between New York City and the Hudson Valley.

Doug Menuez online:
instagram.com: @dmenuez
Fearless Genius: www.fearlessgenius.org

Featured photo by ©Claire Yaffa
Additional photos by ©Doug Menuez featured in his book Fearless Genius