doug menuez 2.0: go fast, don’t crash


MY BLOG HAS MOVED TO: www.dougmenuez.com
July 3, 2009, 5:00 pm
Filed under: Field Notes & Essays

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NEW ON LIVEBOOKS RESOLVE: SEEING MONEY
June 26, 2009, 8:27 am
Filed under: Field Notes & Essays, Seeing Money

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Please visit my new column on RESOLVE, liveBooks new blog, about the business of photography called “Seeing Money” where I hope to provide some fundamental business information for those just starting out or trying to re-boot their careers.RESOLVE — the liveBooks photo blog » Doug Menuez

THE OLD MODEL IS THE NEW MODEL

I’ve been having lots of discussions around the country lately about what viable new model might be developing for advertising and editorial photographers to survive in this new economic era and beyond. Guess what: there isn’t one. Yet. And probably at this point there won’t be one. Photographers are too fragmented and pulling at cross purposes for too many years. We’ve been giving away internet rights for so long that’s become entrenched as pretty much free.

Right now I have to believe the old rules still apply. Photographers who develop their eye and can present their own special way of seeing the world and can then build a reputation around that work will thrive. And copyright, feeding photographers and their families for so many years, has no substitute. Of course, supply and demand will always play a role in terms of the leverage photographers have. The more you build your name, the more leverage you’ll have. Right now supply is at an all time high. Demand is at an all time low. Now is the time to hone your skills like crazy, and at the same time you must as always market yourself using all the new marketing tools available, including social networking first and foremost.

The one thing photographers can do right now is improve their business skills so we are all pulling in the same direction. The better photographers get at running their businesses the better we’ll all be. If photographers follow similar best business practices that will make us all more effective in leveraging what we have built up. We will never get back to the golden age of past pricing and trade practices that made advertising so lucrative. But the more existing and new photographers embrace and understand the power of unifying their business practices and protecting their rights the sooner things will improve.

There are lots of expert consultants out there who can take you to another level. The main thrust of the work I see that is valuable is around marketing and honing your creative vision. Five who come to mind who I know, trust and recommend are Mary Virginia Swanson, Debra Weiss, Allegra Wilde, Ian Summers and Susan Baraz.

I have either consulted with or worked together with them on panels and I know how powerful their experience can be for a photographer trying to push forward creatively and marketing-wise. But before even taking that step it’s important to do your homework on a basic structural level.

BACK TO BASICS

What I will be sharing is a report from the front lines from a working photographer perspective. At first I’ll discuss the basic stuff and then later some of the mistakes I’ve made, what worked for me, things I learned the hard way. Bankers can’t help you until you know how they think. Most accountants don’t understand the photography business. Most photographers I know have no idea what a P&L is or how to manage cash flow or get an SBA loan. Very few are effective at collections without alienating clients and almost none have learned basic bookkeeping. Yeah, the boring, yet essential DNA building block items of a growing business.

Please take a look at the new column and let me know what you think and what you want to know more about:

RESOLVE — the liveBooks photo blog » Doug Menuez



Bahador Irani Sent You A Message On Facebook
June 23, 2009, 6:10 pm
Filed under: Field Notes & Essays | Tags: , , , ,

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As blood spills in the streets of Iran I watch from the safe distance of television and internet, sorry for the lost lives and fearful for colleagues covering the story. Today I got another note from a student in Iran who I met through Facebook. I can’t do much to help this courageous young man– his name literally means “brave Iranian”– except what he asks me to do: relay the message. So I’m sharing this valuable first person witness to the repression:

Bahador sent you a message.

“Dear doug Please let the world know what is goin on in iran. please let the world know about iranian youth cries in lack of justice in our elections.”

Subject: doroud (hi).

“dear doug thanks alot for your kind reply on my previous post and please accept my appology because of the long delay in getting it back with you. as you may know every communication mean is blocked by our government in iran, speacially internet and depndent stuffs to it. our cellphones, sattilites, internet access and everything is blocked and filtered.
yeah 4 days ago before our supreme leader speech we were asking for a new election and that is 80% of the voters oppinion but when he showd us his real face the protesters demands were taken to another level and after killing more of our citizens by his command, oppinions got changed and people can not stand his leadership anymore. they are setting up  our 2 candidates, mir hossein moosavi and mehdi karoobi a crime to arrest them and kill all other protesters. they use snipers, tear gases , batons and everything possible to use the highest level of violence against the protesters. they have killed at least at least and at least 50 persoan by far. unfortunatly president obama is not takeing a more seriuos dicision againts iran and we iranians are suffering from his being this cold blood against this much bloodshed. we belive that political sanctions from america is needed. thanks again for your kind support and hope you keep supporting us to a better end. for humen being, humen dignity, humen rights and a peacful life. at least this tragic story allowed us to prove to the world that iranian peopl are not happy with their government and the whole islamic republic of iran, but we were all dominated under this shameful system and what i garantee is that my citizens are not looking for atomic bomb we are are all friends with american people and european people and we are looking for the real peace. please let our american brothers and sisters know, that iranian people were dominated and they can not take this anymore. my sister was born in america in oklahoma and she is an american/iranian citizen. and please if its that reachable for you guys use the NGO powers to help us. a heartfelt thanks goes to all of you from my people and we are looking for your help indeed. wish you all the best of lcuks and a peacful life for all of us. good luck.

Truely yours.

Bahador.”

Please pass it on.



NOTHING CHANGED

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From “Blur: A Memoir,” an ongoing and random series of stories, dreams, and memories from my life as a photographer. This is #2 in a continuing series from “Tesåo,” about my wife Tereza and our relationship. A recurring theme in any photographer’s life is how to maintain some semblance of family life, or to even keep friends. This story reflects parts of my personal evolution and naive attempts to balance my work and family and make my second (and hopefully last) marriage work.

©2009 Doug Menuez from "Tesão"

©2009 Doug Menuez from "Tesão"

After we broke up I drove cross country to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, determined to lose myself in photography. Tereza quickly tired of America and moved back to Brazil in 1977, entered University, got married, got divorced, graduated, moved back to New York to work for Globo TV eight years later, got married again, and in a devastating setback got separated from her new husband within a month.  She began looking for me. Not knowing where I’d moved, she was calling around the US for two years, city by city, finally in late 1985 finding my number in San Francisco with the help of her sister.

I had suffered night after night in those ten long, sad years we had been apart, listening to Brazilian records and memory-etching each detail of that summer together. She found me in California and left a sweet message, which I played upon returning from a shoot. I’d been flying all day in a helicopter with Wayne Newton at the controls, his german shepherd barking continuously in the co-pilot seat as Wayne roared through canyons near Vegas, inches from the red rock walls.  Exhausted, I arrived home and hit play on my answering machine. Her soft voice barely audible with my cocaine-fueled wife screaming for a divorce behind me (“OK, you got it!”).Then I flew all night to New York City full of elation, adrenaline and dread. Laying in bed that first day back together, it was then, looking into her eyes, that I experienced true peace of mind for the first time. We’d found each other again and nothing whatsoever had changed between us.

I was always flying in those days for the magazines and was able to start making weekend trips to New York to see Tereza from wherever I was shooting. We slowly got to know each other again over five months of visits. I started secretly grabbing some of her stuff and putting it into my suitcase to bring back to Sausalito, while slowly trying to convince her to leave New York.

The last weekend before she finally decided to move with me to California, Tereza remembered her visit to a psychic who made some predictions on a tape that she had put in a drawer and never played. She had just forgotten about it. As a young journalist, I was pretty skeptical of psychics but was willing to listen.

Tereza found the tape and put it on her little cassette player. We sat together and listened. The psychic spoke in a calm, even voice. He said that in two years time Tereza would meet a man from her past with the initials “DM or MD” and that he worked for the magazines. We both got chills as we realized it was two years to the month since she had been given the tape. We looked hard at each other. I knew she was deciding that moment to go with me, to trust me. Well, there are just some things that can’t be explained in life. Some force is at work we can only guess at. This then, our meeting again after all this time, was fate.

©2009 Doug Menuez from "Tesão"

©2009 Doug Menuez from "Tesão"




INKJET’S SILVER LINING

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“There are relatively few things I truly despise: beets, liver, Karl Rove and RC paper, in that order. RC breaks my heart. It’s to those who print on matte rag paper yet remember silver gelatin before the Hunt brothers cornered the market on silver in the late 1970’s that I address.”

Pulling a perfect print from the wash was one of the great joys in life for a photographer. While still wet the image glowed supernaturally, tones luminous and rich. Judging how much it would dry down was one of many subtle skills gained in a darkroom. Working all night with a bottle of scotch and Miles playing, we were ecstatic in our solitude.

The small miracle of a silver gelatin print yielding its hidden image in the developer and the joy of the process was unequaled for me in the digital realm until recently. With the introduction of inkjet paper that emulates the look and feel of silver paper a rather larger miracle has been produced.

A whole generation has grown up thinking expensive, delicate rag type paper such as watercolor or other less costly types of matte papers are what you use to make prints. To them, this paper is photography. Better this then plastic, resin-coated stock. For those who embraced RC paper in the darkroom, or it’s evil mutant digital version, I can’t help you, hasta le vista. There are relatively few things I truly despise: beets, liver Karl Rove and RC paper, in that order. RC breaks my heart. It’s those who print on matte rag paper yet remember silver gelatin before the Hunt brothers cornered the market on silver in the late 1970’s that I address.

It’s true many in my generation have embraced rag papers as I did, at first because the alternative was the horrific sheen of plastic. What choice did we have in the early days of digital? Good rag papers are an important link to art and the history of printmaking, and can deliver stunningly beautiful prints for the right images. I grew up using it for etching and lithography, not photography. But over time, every generation of digital printmakers has grown to just accept matte paper as the norm.

The difference for me is simple: matte paper absorbs light and looks flat. A traditional silver paper of the type I grew up like Kodak Polycontrast F, famous as Ansel Adams favorite, or Agfa’s Portriga Rapid or the orginal Ilford, had a “supercoating” of a hardened gelatin giving it what was called a semi-gloss surface. It wasn’t glossy like RC paper, but it had a sheen that reflected light and gave depth to the blacks. And that difference was its power.

After a speech at RIT four years ago where I lamented the lack of an inkjet substrate equaling the look, feel, and tonal range of long-ago papers I was approached Eric Kunsman of Booksmart, a talented local digital printer and bookbinder in Rochester. He told me my wait was over. He was testing a brand new paper from a new company called Innova.

The company was formed by a band of Hanemuhle rebels who left when the parent company refused to fund their dream of making and distributing a paper that rivaled silver gelatin for inkjet printing. There was a story about an eccentric German scientist who also missed silver paper laboring to solve the technical challenges involved in getting a silver gelatin-like emulsion on a cotton paper base.  Innova got a hold of this guy and set the goal of producing a fibre based baryta paper that no one could tell from silver.

Until that moment, no major manufacturer appeared to be interested in this idea. I’d spoken to Epson and others and was told that it was technically too difficult and expensive to produce, and there was essentially no demand. Yet here came this little company with the crazy idea that there were photographers who remembered and missed the silver print. They also felt there were plenty of people still printing away on silver paper that might be tempted into digital printing.

With the invention of Innova FibaGloss paper the doors opened and Hanemuhle, Ilford, Epson and others got the religion and all today now distribute similar papers, creating choices and competition. I’m mentioning Innova because they were first, remain my favorite and now thankfully sponsor my projects. But I do this also from pure self-interest: I hope photographers will buy this extraordinary paper so I get to keep printing with it.

Tequila, Mexico. ©2009 Doug Menuez. At Fotokina a silver gelatin print of this image was hung next to an inkjet print made on Innova FibaGloss in a comparison test. Most photographers chose the inkjet print when asked to identify the silver print.

Tequila, Mexico. ©2009 Doug Menuez. At Fotokina a silver gelatin print of this image was hung next to an inkjet print made on Innova FibaGloss in a comparison test. Most photographers chose the inkjet print when asked to identify the silver print.

For a long time I did not even realize how I was missing silver paper. I was caught up in learning to master inkjet printing, especially the amazing color possibilities. I woke up in 2003 while comparing a black and white silver print I had made of men in vats of agave juice making tequila from my book “Heaven, Earth, Tequila” to a rag print. The first thing I noticed was the true continuous tone, the rich blacks and overall luminosity made me feel I could almost fall into the print. The rag paper had its lovely texture and handmade feel, but the image lost some impact. I felt separated from the content by the paper. And then I really noticed the limits of ink jet. While it was much easier to use Photoshop to dodge and burn I started to see where the lower gray tones were blocking up, the upper grays jumped to white and subtle banding I’d ignored somehow. Measuring the d-max showed the silver print to have deeper blacks as well.

Knowing there was no such thing as a semi-gloss silver type paper on the market at that time, I began to further explore image processing and printing with the goal of getting as close to continuous tone as possible. RIPs and processing techniques for digital converting color files to bw from Greg Gorman and other tips from Seth Resnick helped. And overall, there has been tremendous progress in inkjet printing. But even so, I grew to miss the look and feel of my old paper more and more.

In the late 1980’s I was experimenting with digital printing on rag and other papers, printing on wax printers at Adobe, where I was documenting the engineers, and later at Electronics for Imaging, where they were developing what later became the Fiery RIP. Around late 1992 I printed a portfolio on an early version of Supermac’s dye sublimation printer, a breakthrough on price and color. It had what was essentially continuous tone, far more similar to silver than what I could get from inkjet, with its dithered ink droplets. But the trade off was that the paper was resin based and it also faded quickly. I turned to Iris printers and lush watercolor papers. Those papers quickly became available on the much, much cheaper Epsons, so I joined the hunt to make beautiful prints with inkjet.

And that was all good until my wake up call. Sometimes we forget what we truly love and what defines us. Now my long nightmare is over. For me a big quest in digital is to find and implement metaphors for what I had in analog. Now I’m pulling prints out of my inkjet printer with that same rush as I had pulling them from the wash. They glow.

So the challenge is lessened but is essentially the same: to make prints that move us emotionally. It’s about the image, but also the print as object, as a beautiful delivery system for the subject matter. The choice of substrate says as much about the photographer as the content of the work and can affect our perception of the photograph as subconscious filters. To each their own of course, but I finally found mine; the look and feel of silver. Can’t beat that.



Beach House ’76
June 7, 2009, 4:59 pm
Filed under: Blur: A Memoir, Field Notes & Essays | Tags: , , ,

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From “Blur: A Memoir,” an ongoing and random series of stories, dreams, and memories from my life as a photographer.

When Tereza arrived in New York City from Brazil in 1976, her older sister Magda got her a job in a sweatshop on 23rd Street sewing leather bags for Carlos Falchi. Magda was representing the hot new Brazilian designer, filling orders she’d taken from Bloomindale’s and trendy boutiques downtown.

tesao_021

Every day at lunch the women would rise from their sewing machines and gather by the huge windows on the 10th floor. Across the street, like clockwork, they would see this freaky old guy jerking off on his rooftop, looking over at them as they laughed in amazement and disgust.

At night, Tereza and Magda would go to huge parties downtown wearing black leather mini-skirts. There were East Germans, Russians and Poles who’d escaped through the Iron Curtain, Brazilian diplomats and musicians, French filmmakers, Italian playboys, heroin dealers, dancers, painters, and a few Americans trying to dance the Samba, with everyone high on Capirinhas, shouting over the music in a Babel-like cacophony of miscommunication.

It wasn’t long before the sweatshop job wore Tereza down and she quit, retreating to the calm of Magda’s beach house on Eaton’s Neck, not far from where I grew up in Northport. On Easter Sunday I was making a rare visit home when Magda called me from the city. For three years Magda had been telling me her younger sister would come to live with her as soon as she could arrange things. And finally her sister had arrived, was alone at the beach house, and needed cheering up. I was busy and still a bit mad at Magda for some long-forgotten reason, made some excuse and hung up. Five minutes later, Maria Tereza Pires Machado, 21 years old, called and asked in very broken English why I would not come and see her. Her voice was soft and sexy as hell. I grabbed a bottle of wine and my Nikkormat and hitchhiked the 30 miles to see her. Although I did not understand her Portuguese, language was not an issue that night and we talked for hours. She insisted I stay the night, pulling me into bed. I watched her cross the kitchen into the back bedroom. With a quick, graceful gesture she simultaneously dropped her sun dress revealing her naked, perfect brown body, while slapping her hand on the bed, and said “You stay.” I did.

This utterly blew my 18-year-old, Long Island mind. The night became a week. I was overwhelmed, transported to another planet, converted to a new religion––the religion of her––with the total devotion and hallucinatory intensity of a convert, and in way, way, way over my head. I’d had girlfriends; this was a woman.

We began an affair that lasted almost six months until she abruptly broke up with me. She got bored and wanted to see older guys. On our last date I tried to impress her and took her to Fire Island in my “new” ’65 Opel and we ran out of gas on the highway. She didn’t really speak to me after that, although I continued to visit her sisters. Devastated, I moved to San Francisco determined to forget her and dedicate my life to photography.



F Stop Beyond: Interview with Doug Menuez
May 31, 2009, 11:26 am
Filed under: Inspiration | Tags: , , ,

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interview audio

Ron Dawson is the rarest of talents– he has built a career and business around his passion and is a special example of how to merge art and commerce to live your dreams. An exceptionally gifted and accomplished writer, director, and award-winning video producer, speaker, instructor, and columnist, Ron also conducts some of the most useful and interesting interviews with photographers I’ve come across. Check out his show F-Stop Beyond: The EXPERIENCE. Ron asks all the right questions, getting photographers to open up and delve into the deeper issues behind the work.  And that’s what he did with me, pushing me to question my own beliefs and understanding of the issues. Everything is changing so fast these days, the more discussion the better it seems to me, and Ron helps focus the discussion around how to maintain creativity while surviving these times. Here is our talk: interview audio



NOTES FROM THE ROAD: WALKING THE TALK
May 22, 2009, 12:55 pm
Filed under: Field Notes & Essays | Tags: , ,

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I’ve been driving up and down 280 in Silicon Valley the past few weeks working hard to launch my new book and documentary film project from my work here in the 80’s and 90’s. More on that soon. Although it’s going amazingly well, it’s still really, really, really, really, really hard to get sponsors and funding for these kinds of projects. At the same time I’ve been updating my portfolio (with my amazing new agents at Stockland Martel) and preparing a new web site with LiveBooks new custom service, writing this blog, and beginning a new blog for LiveBooks on the business of photography (coming soon). I’ve also completed a rough cut on a short film I directed about immigrants in NYC and giving talks around the country while also working on ad campaigns, production and other projects.

What am I doing? Basically I’m starting over. The economy just makes it all harder but I’m putting myself in the same boat with any other photographer starting or redirecting their career. This is the same crazy pace that ten years ago led me to burn out completely so I can’t help but think about the message I’m sending in my essays and public talks. Damn, I hate having to follow my own advice. Of course I’m in a good position and having fun with this new phase, but the same principles apply. I have to keep honing my vision and get my work out there. I have to hustle as much as any young photographer starting out. That’s the way it is.

We had drinks last night with a young woman considering a career in photography and the issue of “paying your dues” came up. I told the story about the time we hired “a famous photographer’s” assistant who one day threw the negs he was filing back down on the light table and announced “I’m too good for this shit! I paid my dues!” And so forth. Well, sweet Jesus I was so glad for him. I sure wish I could say the same. Please don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

There is no such thing as being paid in full in the dues department. If you believe that, chances are you are on a plateau, comfortable and resisting the increasingly obvious problems related to stasis in a creative live. You might be heading for hack-ville if as I believe we must challenge ourselves periodically to grow. By challenging yourself you are automatically making your life more complicated, stressful and taking risks. This is the requirement of excellence, of fulfilling your potential. It just goes with the territory….

I think it’s so interesting and consistent with my point that Chase Jarvis is writing about how he is pushing himself creatively to take risks; he’s shooting landscapes, portraits, every day life with his iPhone and probably next with his hotel room converted into a pinhole camera — see Chase Jarvis Blog: Escaping Your Portfolio — this stuff lights up my brainstem like a strong snort of powdered jalapeños. He is absolutely right not to sit back on his accomplishments, and I’m  inspired by what he’s doing. I hear that damn voice in my head: get busy, get busy you lazy bastard!

For those starting out, suffice to say that to reach your goals the amount of effort you need to put in will be SHOCKINGLY surprising to you; it will seem endless, unfair, irrational. And once you get to the first goal prepare to do all that all over again every five or ten years out if you want to stay relevant, fresh and ultimately, happy.

So yeah, I”m probably pushing things a bit more than I should, but this time around I am heeding my own words in that I have clearly chosen a path I want to follow that I think is my true path, and which I feel I was born to follow. This time I’m not compromising–as much. I’m actually content and in the most creative space I’ve been in for years. I remember how a large part of the insanity of my early days was not having a clear plan, not knowing the price for my dreams in terms of the amount of work I would have to put in. But once you go through the fire of life and actually survive there is not much that can stop you if you believe in something strongly enough.

It is definitely easier now because I know the amount of insane effort required. Because I’ve succeeded while taking risks in the past the fear is much diminished or mostly gone. What the fuck, just move ahead. Have faith. Now for some sleep.



INSPIRATION #4: Driftless
May 19, 2009, 1:26 pm
Filed under: Inspiration

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Danny Wilcox Frazier’s new piece on the rural life in Iowa is breathtaking in it’s simple power. Working with Brian Storm, Bob Sacha and the team at MediaStorm, Danny has created something that not only gives us a profound understanding and new respect for the farmers who struggle to bring us our daily bread, but a perfect, elegant film that synthesizes moving images with still. This will be a lasting document of a place and time. Well worth a look.

MediaStorm: Driftless: Stories from Iowa by Danny Wilcox Frazier



INSPIRATION #3: FACING THE OTHER

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©2009 Lyle Owerko/CLIC Gallery

©2009 Lyle Owerko/CLIC Gallery

I’m torn sometimes between my core desire to capture moments and to create photographs. I’m also prone to seek the bliss of isolation after periods of intense work. I have to force myself to get out and see what’s going on, but I rarely regret it. So when I am knocked off my feet by such beauty as I recently saw at Lyle Owerko’s show of his project on the Samburu people of Northern Kenya at the CLIC Gallery in Soho I am inspired and overcome with the desire to rush out and do portraits. Lyle goes deep with these lyrical, sensitive portraits and the stunning large prints are hypnotic.

Clic Bookstore & Gallery – New York, St. Barth – ABOUT

In a related vein, Elisabeth Sunday’s AFRICA VI: The Tuareg Portfolios, 2005–2009 presents dramatic figurative portraits of the nomadic Tuareg from the Sahara Desert in Northern Mali, which I also find haunting, lyrical, mystical; they push my inner Jungian dreamscape blast-off button. And I’ve not yet seen these up close, but will next week.

Gallery 291

Back in the US, I was pulled in by Richard Rinaldi’s new monograph “Fall River Boys” from Charles Lane Press, which yields the stark, honest reality of young men coming of age in a struggling New England town. The work rises up and bites when you least expect it to. Eloquent, and also haunting and sad, the images are not without glimmers of dignity and determination as seen on the faces Rinaldi reveals with care.

Charles Lane Press | Fall River Boys

Inspiration alone is a pretty great thing, no?

But it’s deeper than that. I’m responding also to the search for the other, as these artists all seem to me to be pursuing in their own ways. By the “other” I refer to the stranger we encounter in our travels, or even in our own street. Through our understanding of the other, we define ourselves.  The famous journalist Rsyard Kapucinski discusses this phenomenon extensively in his posthumous book “The Other,” Verso, 2008, and refers to the great French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas who said “…the self is only possible through the recognition of the other.”

Through my own portraits on my travels I’ve noticed a continuing theme in my work over the years that explores this idea. In all my work, since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with images that could be called portraits but are made as street shots where the subject has momentarily looked into my lens as I was grabbing the moment––probably they were lost in thought while waiting in a line or while working or whatever––but they looked up at me as I pressed the shutter. There is an unguarded quality as if I have known them all my life and they are trusting me. It’s a lovely fraction of a second when defenses between strangers are down. I have the nerve to look the stranger in the eye and they are completely open to me in turn.

I’ve written a bit about this and how I see this as a search for my own identity and place in the world, and that’s about the size of it. Not at all a conscious effort, just part of what I’m doing. Which may be why the above artist’s work is so exciting and inspiring to me.

And by creating a photograph, as opposed to capturing a portrait as a moment, I mean a situation, most likely a portrait where I’m in dialog with the subject. I’m choosing the background, location and position of the subject, or a still life, or some other conceptual approach such as some of the fashion or advertising work I’ve done that may be more illustrative.

These really seem two sides of the same coin because even moments captured in camera are later partly “created” in terms of how I render the print in the darkroom, digital or wet. There the print becomes an expression and subjective interpretation of how I saw the image. While digital manipulation in terms of switching out heads or changing skies and whatnot is not my thing, burning and dodging is definitely another form of manipulation, and is something very important to me. Since your eye goes to the lightest areas first I can control where your eye moves around the image to yield a heightened emotional response. Some of this may be planned in the exposure and depth of field of course, but in the final print comes the full expression of the idea. And that leads to a discussion about the magic of the print… to be continued…



KAIZEN IN RICHMOND
April 26, 2009, 9:47 am
Filed under: Field Notes & Essays

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“The ideas I’m expressing about true success are scalable and can be modified to fit individual needs. That’s where kaizen comes into play. “

I’m still buzzed from the wonderful, warm bath of good vibrations that made my visit and talk with the photographers of Richmond, VA and the ASMPCV such a blast. Giving one of these talks can be like any performance; entertaining, hopefully inspiring, or…not, and the outcome is more than half driven by the energy of the audience. This was an outstanding audience from which I learned a few things. These folks down here have their heads screwed on right, especially the talented John Henley, who helped arrange my visit. John started in fine art and continues to bring an artist’s eye to his commercial work. In other words, he gets paid to shoot what he loves to shoot. Thinking about John and a conversation we had on the way to the airport got me reflecting again on the merits of kaizen, the Japanese concept of continuous incremental improvement.

©2009 John Henley, from "Midway" series.

©2009 John Henley, from "Midway" series.

These are strange times and I hear from a lot of people struggling to figure it all out, just as I am, and yet for the most part my sense was that life is quite good in Richmond amongst the photo community. People are working, things are happening as reflected by the challenging questions raised by this sharp group. Gathered in a former tobacco warehouse that is now the beautiful studio/gallery of photographer Guy Crittenden I couldn’t help but be impressed with the whole Richmond thing: the town, the people, the almost irritating friendliness (hey I am a New Yorker once again) and the tremendous talent on display on the gallery walls from a show of personal work by the local chapter members.

My talk was based on the themes from my EP essay “On Chaos…” which examines the core challenges we all face in order to create a creatively satisfying life in photography for the long term. These challenges include how to get paid to shoot what we love, building a proper business structure, balancing work and family, thriving and not just surviving kind of stuff. Most photographers are well aware of these issues and working on them. But when I’m listening to someone else articulate ways to address these questions it helps me to recognize my own challenges and to take what is useful from the speaker to apply in my own life. I’m hoping the same can be true for my audience. It really helps me to bounce these ideas off an audience in order to sharpen my own thinking and evolve the dialog. Everything about photography is changing so fast right now so I can’t even pretend to be any kind of authority. I just share my experience and what worked and did not work in the past. Hopefully some of this is useful for the future.

The feedback was very positive so I know I was on the right track for most people. But I had an interesting conversation afterward with Elli Morris who talked about her life and career in terms of having applied most of what I was talking about from the get go. She had acted all along with integrity, following her heart and saying no as much as possible to the bullshit that kills us. This to me is a rare person in photography and her ability to live in that way is exemplary. I was never that mature. Funny, but it does seem that the creative brain is often a beast that must be tamed, and many of my peers have become expert at self-medication. Sometimes this could be a chemical thing– art and madness do seem to go together– and other times it’s related to how we were raised or just the stress of putting your ego on the line. But Elli is also a mature individual, clearly raised with the right amount of self-esteem and gumption to weather the storms of a creative life. Much of what I’m talking and writing about is figuring out how to live like Elli already is living.

On the way to the airport John described similar sentiments that helped me crystalize a thought I need to add to my talks: the ideas I’m expressing about true success are scalable and can be modified to fit individual needs. That’s where kaizen comes into play. When I get rolling I tend to rant a bit, and I try to stress the urgency I feel about how short life is and coming to terms with what you feel is your true voice, putting that in your portfolio and figuring out the proper business structure to support that. For me it really is all or nothing and I can come on a bit strong with my swing for the fences philosophy. That works to get some people motivated, but for others it might be less helpful. If you are feeling trapped by the economy, or in a rut creatively, and trying to feed your family and without resources to change, then my call to action might be frustrating. But if you can make one tiny change such as everyday shooting one picture for yourself to replenish your creative well, you are practicing kaizen. And you can take other small steps, slowly turning your ship around until you are going in the right direction.

To me true success is measured in terms of how satisfied you can be creatively while still getting the bills paid. It is a question of balance, of first defining the goal and step-by-step progress to that goal. It’s doubtful anyone can ever achieve 100 per merger of art and commerce all of the time. There are compromises in reality, the trick is to keep tilting the scale toward your dreams. It’s not going to happen overnight and your version of success is yours alone. John pointed out to me that not everyone will be in the top 20 photographers in the US, nor will they even want to be. Everyone has a different level of ego, ambition and way of defining success. John is not saying people should accept mediocrity either, but to examine what works and does not work for them and begin to look at what their choices have been. What photographers do want is to find a way to make a living from the work that gives them the most joy so their lives are meaningful.

Yet it’s easy to get discouraged, especially if you are moderately successful. There is a keen fear now of rocking the boat. And even if you decide to push yourself to change, practicing kaizen everyday, you will never stop paying your dues. Even the top 20 superstars, whoever they are, will never stop paying their dues if they want to be creatively satisfied. That’s just the reality of what we do. We never reach the ultimate goal. Life truly is a journey––true cliché alert––and needs to be treated as such, appreciating each stage in context.

The inspiring news is that there are many photographers finding ingenious ways to drive their careers into satisfying orbits, even in this economy, and certainly it seems so in Richmond.



APRIL 23 ASMPVC TALK: RICHMOND VA
April 19, 2009, 9:21 am
Filed under: Field Notes & Essays

MY BLOG HAS MOVED!!

Please change your RSS and bookmarks! Please vist my blog now at:

www.dougmenuez.com

Please join me at ASMPCV chapter in Richmond, VA on April 23, 7pm, in a discussion around the issues in my recent EP essay “Chaos, Fear, Survival & Luck” For more info, please check out their site:

ASMPCV – Central Virginia Chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP)

EP Resources – Doug Menuez ON CHAOS, FEAR, SURVIVAL & LUCK: LONGEVITY IS THE ANSWER



LIFE HAPPENS, ALERT THE MEDIA
April 16, 2009, 5:34 pm
Filed under: Blur: A Memoir | Tags: , ,

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“So I laid out my evolving thesis to the crowd of young shooters: if we spent more time with our  families, wouldn’t we then develop more as human beings? Wouldn’t we become more emotionally rounded and more sensitive to the human experience? And wouldn’t that make us better photographers, better able to observe, empathize and understand our subjects on a gut level, rather than what is often a purely visceral news content level? It went over like a lead balloon.”

Our friends Marvi Lacar and Ben Lowy came for dinner last night, with surprising and lovely news that Marvi is pregnant. Naturally the subject came up of how to be a photojournalist and be a good parent. Ben was leaving for Afghanistan in the morning and then possibly returning to Iraq. The discussion was not just about the risks we take to cover the story but being away for extended periods, the endless miles apart from family. When my son was born 21 years ago I was way less mature or prepared to deal with the responsibility then Marvi and Ben. Aside from their incandescent talent and amazing work, they are both incredibly smart and thoughtful people. They will now go through the balancing act a new baby requires. I’ve been writing and talking recently about finding a balance in our work between art and commerce, but this is much deeper and more complicated. Can you have a family and be a dedicated photojournalist?

Sometime in the early 1990’s I was invited to be on the panel of the Flying Short Course. I was the token magazine photojournalist before an audience of mostly young newspaper photographers, many of whom aspired to the perceived glamor and freedom of freelance magazine work. Someday they hoped to be covering wars, celebrities, campaigns, etc., and  expected me to extoll the virtues of my life. True, I was living my dream but was also starting to make the painful decisions that were bringing me to the end-point of that phase in my career. My mindset was very, very different than what my audience was expecting. My son had begun saying inconvenient things like, “Daddy, don’t go,” each time I headed out the door to another far-off assignment. It broke my heart of course. And at that point in my life, not much could get through my field-deadened emotions. And that meant I could no longer ignore the needs of my family for my career. That’s when I started looking for a way to put myself at risk less often, do commercial work or anything that helped me be home more, and deal with the reality I had created. But it is much easier to worry instead about the fierce demands required to not only get across the world but to then get the picture. Much, much easier.

Here’s the first picture I showed in my presentation:

cpw_32

My wife Tereza is holding our two-year old son Paolo in 1989. I had arrived the night before after 8 weeks in China and was leaving at that moment back to China via Hamburg to shoot “A Day in The Life of China,” with 100 of the world’s top photojournalists and then on to another assignment for another month after that. I was able to fit a visit home in San Francisco and had grabbed clean clothes and a meal. As I leaned to kiss my wife goodbye she burst into tears. My son looked at her and also began to cry. My reaction? I snatched the Polaroid off the dresser and shot this image. It was pure training; a moment was happening right in front of me and I reacted as if I was covering a story, instantly. Heartless? Sure, but in retrospect it was probably the only way I could have suppressed the very real pain of leaving my family. I was steeling my mind for more weeks on the road. Super glamorous.

Since then I”ve shown this picture in my talks and workshops because it was such a searing pivotal moment for me in my evolution as a photographer and a person and often relevant to younger shooters contemplating their futures. My heroes in photojournalism, most of the legends, had pretty much abandoned their families to survive as best they could while away on shoots. All my mentors were divorced and married to the camera and job. The attitude I learned with was that to be any good, you had to be willing to die for the picture. It was the work, the work, the work. Everything else came second, if at all.

The life I led then was similar to so many magazine news photographers. You kept a bag packed at all times. You had your eye on the news all the time looking for stories. You would either get a call to cover something or you’d pitch a story. If there was a big story and you could get to it first or second you’d just go knowing your agent would secure the “guarantees” for a number of days plus space. You could never say no to an editor or ever, ever fuck up. At a conference in the 80’s I once heard a young photogapher ask Roxanne Edwards at Business Week what would happen if, you know, somehow the film just did not turn out? Response: “Then you would never work for us again.” Sharp, honest, true answer. But seriously, doh! The other editors on the panel from Time, Newsweek, US News all shook their heads solemnly in agreement. The pressure to get world-class images on deadline against tremendous competition was unrelenting, yet it was also what fueled us. I was on the road so much that at one point I had to write notes to myself before I passed out in my hotel with the name of the city I was in, so when I woke up I’d know where the hell I was. Berlin. Bangkok. Khartoum. Paris. One trip had me shooting in 17 countries in 17 days.

And I do believe there is a natural tendency when you photograph the misery in the world– people dying or starving– to shut down our emotions, not that differently from an EMT at an accident scene. You must function as a professional. The by-product is that we become damaged goods; emotionally stunted, untreated PTS victims. This is just another layer on top of what the loneliness of the road does to you. I’d say some of us probably become borderline sociapaths. But hey, I’m probably just confusing some photojournalists with hard core paparazzi. Kidding! Or maybe not…

So I laid out my evolving thesis to the crowd of young shooters: if we spent more time with our  families, friends or significant others, wouldn’t we then develop more as human beings? Wouldn’t we become more emotionally rounded and more sensitive to the human experience? And wouldn’t that make us better photographers, better able to observe, empathize and understand our subjects on a gut level, rather than what is often a purely visceral news content level? It went over like a lead balloon. One slightly older guy approached me later with tears in his eyes and said he was struggling with just this issue. But the reaction from the crowd that day, and later from my my peers was pretty negative. None of my friends––who were also my competition––had kids and most were not yet married. From there I chose my own path and moved into a kind of wilderness of isolation from my colleagues and clients in photojournalism. A new life began.

This photograph of my wife and son is always a good reminder to me of the goals I set to try to be a better parent. My son is now a talented musician finishing college so for that I’m grateful. Obviously my career could not have happened without the support of my wife who became my partner in the business and primary caregiver. For her, the decision was easier because she was told she’d never have children. Our son was a miracle kid and she wanted to be part of his every minute. And this issue is obviously more complicated for women in general. It used to be that most women became picture editors; now there are many more women in the field shooting– not enough, but still way more.

Of course smart people will find ways to balance the competing needs of work and family, that’s not new. The issue is about what it takes to do what Ben does in Afghanistan. Can you be at that level, all in, and still create a balance? It can be done I think, but it is not easy and only with careful planning. And with so many more people starting families while working in photojournalism I’m interested to learn some of the creative solutions out there.

The truth that I’ve learned to live with and embrace is this: how my son turns out is way more important than any picture I produce. His impact on his world, the world he grows into, his friends or future family, is my only real legacy. And I’m so, so fine with that.



BUY THE BOOK, SUPPORT THE KIDS!
April 13, 2009, 12:18 pm
Filed under: Field Notes & Essays | Tags: , , , , , ,

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Transcendent Spirit: The Orphans of Uganda

STILL IN STORES, AMAZON.COM AND EMPOWER AFRICAN CHILDREN.COM

ALL PROFITS TO THE KIDS

Amazon.com: Transcendent Spirit: The Orphans of Uganda: Douglas Menuez: Books

The stories featured in Transcendent Spirit illuminate the smallest fraction of Uganda’s heartbreaking history with HIV/AIDS. I believe you will be moved by the magnificent photographs by Doug Menuez as much as I have been. It is through his caring lens that we see the children and experience their courage, joy and innate beauty. This book brings these young lives into sharp focus, and we must never look away.”

–– Dame Elizabeth Taylor


07_06_007__1_book2

“Transcendent Spirit: The Orphans of Uganda”

Rarely do pictures alone create change. What does change things is money— funds to pay for food, clothing and the critically important education that catapults these children forward to lives of meaning. Therefore all profits are going to the foundation : : : Empower African Children : : : to support these amazing children.

Please buy the book, make a difference!

Sponsored by Macy’s, Produced by David Elliot Cohen, Intro by Dame Elizabeth Taylor , published by Beaufort Books, NY.



THE ZEN OF FILM vs. DIGITAL GRATIFICATION
April 10, 2009, 12:19 pm
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“Mulling it over, I couldn’t articulate it fully but definitely, I knew I had become lazy, really lazy. A spectacular sloth by the standards of shooting film. Film is hard. Film is a stone cold unforgiving killing bastard. Film is once in a lifetime, no excuses. F8 and really, really be there: ready, steady, in focus, correct exposure, and pressing the shutter in synch with life.”


THE LURE OF DIGITAL

Throughout the 1980’s I covered a lot of football, some of it without a motor drive or auto exposure and all of it manually follow-focusing with big glass. Various manufacturers would show up on the sidelines with different versions of digital cameras to try, always promising (or threatening) the same refrain: “In five years you guys will all be shooting digital!” Everyone would laugh and roll their eyes at this ridiculous idea.

It took more than five years, but by 1999 with the introduction of the Nikon D1 I was shooting both film and digital. Five years later, fully two thirds of my work was digital. Now with the D3X and D700 it’s 99 percent digital. The main reason for this shift is simply that the quality of the files is just so fantastic now that I can’t justify the expense of film for most projects. I’m not too precious about my tools; for me it’s all about the image and whatever gets the job done. We are at a point now with the quality of digital where I can make a digital print from a digital capture and show veteran photographers prints they cannot tell are digital. And that brings the discussion back to the eye of the shooter and the content of the images; the camera is irrelevant.

Yet despite this technical advance, lately I’ve been looking hard at what this means for me as a photographer and how I see. Of course I miss film and the traditions I grew up with. Until recently I had been shooting Tri-x almost every day since I was 10 years old so it’s not a small thing to change. I’ve been questioning if what I’m missing about film and film cameras is more than sentimental. I wondered if the differences between the working methods of using film and using digital were more than physical and what the implications might be if so. And bear in mind, I’m looking at this as someone who lives for capturing moments. This led me to do a serious shoot on a personal project with only film. And that experience led me to a revelation that is changing how I shoot digital, for the better. More on that in a moment.

It was at the Super Bowl in 1982 that I first laid hands on a digital camera. It was an experimental prototype Nikon was working on. They let me shoot a frame or two. At the time, I thought the whole idea insane. I remember it being very slow and heavy. I vaguely remember you could fire a frame every few minutes and it had a maximum shutter speed of 1/90th of a second or similar. It was unworkable for sports unless you planned to just shoot peak action, waiting for the athlete to reach the apex of a leap in the air for example. This reminded me of the old guys I knew at my first newspaper who started their careers shooting sports with a 4×5 Speed Graphic. One gentleman in particular–Zeke–looked over my shoulder one day and saw the film I was getting ready to soup from an assignment. I knew Zeke had covered the invasion of Normandy, incredibly, with a Speed Graphic. He took a drag on his cigar and leaned over and shouted “Six rolls! We could have covered World War II in 2 f*****g frames ; one for the battle scene, one for the generals shaking hands!”

As the digital revolution unfolded through the 80’s and 90’s and all things analog were being converted to bits I was covering the engineers in Silicon Valley making the breakthroughs. It was clear they were going to change the world and I was very interested in the story more than the technology itself. My background was traditional and seriously analog. I was all about silver and the rituals of the darkroom. Staying up all night printing with MIles Davis on and a bottle of tequila was a necessity. I never imagined that digital capture and output would replace film and silver gelatin paper in my own work. But my curiosity about what the engineers were developing and my proximity led me to experiment early with digital scanners and printers. In 1983 I was transmitting photos to USA Today from forest fires in Yosemite with a steamer trunk size “portable” Scitex scanner. I bought a Mac in December of 1984 and was cruising the early internet immediately through primitive modems. In 1989 I co-produced the first published photography book with digital separations using a beta version of Photoshop. I made one of the first– if not the first– portfolios using a dye-sublimation printer from SuperMac. After three months of hard printing that beast, tweaking the color and density, I put the prints in an “archival” portfolio and by morning all the prints were blank. The ink molecules had migrated to the plastic pages. This is why we call it the “bleeding” edge of new technology. There are dozens of other experiments and beta tests I did with all the latest hardware and software, yet through it all I still never believed it would replace film or wet printing. Never. And that is exactly what happened.

THE ZEN OF FILM

So who cares anymore? Digital is king now. I for one do care, immensely, about the differences between film and digital. Why? I want to make great photographs, that’s why. I still dream every day of trying to make something meaningful that will stand up to time. And I started to get this slow realization that digital was making me lazy. Lazy, as in the opposite of what’s required to be great. No need to really worry about exposure, or to focus or anything. Just point and shoot–a monkey could do it! No need to think at all. This is so seductive and easy to rationalize. You tell yourself, “My eyes are getting bad” or “The auto everything makes me faster” and so on.

I started to worry that with digital I might be losing my edge. Yes, I was making images that I could be proud of and giddy with the instant gratification of seeing the image on the camera’s LCD. But what if I was in fact losing ground? What if I would get so slow and lazy I would miss the picture of a lifetime, the one I’m waiting for every day?

Mulling it over, I couldn’t articulate it fully but definitely, I knew I had become lazy, really lazy. A spectacular sloth by the standards of shooting film. Film is hard. Film is a stone cold unforgiving killing bastard. Film is once in a lifetime, no excuses. F8 and really, really be there: ready, steady, in focus, correct exposure, and pressing the shutter in synch with life.

To test this seemingly irrational fear, I decided to shoot a new project using film and manual settings. It turned out to be incredibly difficult at first, like giving up hotel mini-bars difficult. Like running up a sand dune blindfolded while trying to thread a needle difficult. But some things you don’t forget and after a day or so my mind razored up and I noticed I was again unconsciously adjusting f stops and pre-focusing while I was raising a camera in anticipation of a moment, just like in the old days. Soon these mechanical procedures happened automatically, unconsciously, naturally and in so doing I was changing. I was much more aware of light and therefore of the unforgiving nature of the film. I was bending my brain back into a film mindset. I could feel the difference and started to grasp the outline of a theory.

With digital, so much can be saved. Not only do you have the LCD to alert you to whether you got the shot, to adjust exposure and composition, but you can back it up via wireless, double memory card slots, downloading right there onto hard drives and so forth. The processing is much safer overall and risk of losing the image goes way down. Sure we get the odd electrical storm inside a memory card, but this is insignificant compared with film dangers.

With film, so much is at risk. You are never, ever sure you got the shot until you process the film, and depending where you are in the world and your assignment this could be days or weeks, or in the case of my old friend Frans Lanting, months! You learn to be psychic and to live in denial. You are denying your burning desire to see what you got. And sometimes when you think you sort of missed the shot but are not quite sure, you can deny it for the time being and move on, hopeful yet ignorant. (Contrarily, with digital you will know you missed the greatest shot of your life right then and there, thus inducing plans for suicide, and casting a pall of depression over your shoot.)

With film, not only might the exposure be off, but the processing is fraught with peril. Even if you process yourself mistakes can happen, it’s chemistry for Christ’s sake– and even the best labs have the rare but deadly disasters. Just protecting the film from the shoot to the lab is sometimes a minefield of stress and worry. Try getting a hand check at Heathrow security sometime. The rolls of film are like uncut diamonds, objects that simply cannot be replaced. You sweat, you bleed, you age until it’s safe.

The state of mind required to shoot film is one of heightened, intense concentration and analogous to the mindset required for Zen meditation. It’s pure zen in fact. You are truly living in the moment, electric with anticipation, open to life unfolding before you.

The state of mind when shooting digital is more relaxed, more easily distracted. It’s more like everyday life, nothing that special is required. Especially if you are in fact trained as a photographer and have some skills. The camera does leverage your abilities, no doubt. But while you have your head down checking the LCD guess what? You just missed your pulitzer. That LCD is crack. You just can’t get enough. We all want instant gratification and here you have it. Bliss. Yet the act of constantly checking the back of the camera is taking your head out of the game. You gain a useful bit of knowledge but at what cost? I know it also can save time we used to spend covering our asses with brackets and snip tests and whatnot but if it’s moments in time you are after, I now believe it’s the disciplined Zen mindset you need.

So my theory is simple: there is something really important, perhaps magical, about the fact that film is so unforgiving that it creates a special mindfulness in the photographer, which in turn increases the chances of making great pictures.

Is that a big breakthrough? For me it was a bolt of lightening. I’d slid down into the warm tub of digital complacency and lost discipline and needed correction. Yet I really love my digital cameras for all the practical reasons listed above and so I figured out a compromise. It has not been easy, but it’s all about limiting my use of the LCD. I try to never look at the devil LCD and I often will put the camera on manual exposure or manual focus to keep those neural pathways oiled. I’m not fully going back to the complete mechanical world, but by creating a limit on the LCD I put my mind back in the moment, open and thinking, ready for that shot of a lifetime.