doug menuez 2.0: go fast, don’t crash


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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"


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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 #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…



Natasha Richardson
April 6, 2009, 3:21 pm
Filed under: Blur: A Memoir | Tags: , ,

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natasha-richardson_menuez1

It was very sad news the other day to hear about the death of Natasha Richardson. A sharp reminder of the fragility of our lives. We are just not in control of much that happens so best to pay close attention to what we do get to experience. I flashed back to a day in the late 1980’s that I spent with Natasha, shooting her for People Magazine. I was young and very nervous and so was she. But she was gracious and generous, exceptionally so for someone in her position. She had agreed to let me hang out through her day and I arrived at her father’s house in the Hollywood hills by myself with all my gear. I rarely had an assistant in those days, even when I was lighting.

She said she loved to cook and suggested she make us spaghetti for lunch. I felt this was her subtle way of directing the situation, both me and the photographs, and glad of it as I could relax a bit and begin to work.  She drove us in her little convertible to the market where she shopped for our meal and then back. Her father, the director Tony Richardson, wandered in to the kitchen while she was cooking, tasted the sauce, said hello and wandered out. I just kept shooting and talking with her, hoping to make a picture. After we ate, we did some shots by the pool and around the garden where I made this portrait.

Over the years I’ve shot many of the famous, infamous, up-and-coming and otherwise celebrated of our culture. You often see the way fame twists a person and the pressure and stress they deal with and how they treat people around them. I did not see her again and don’t know really what she was truly like but I got a sense. I keep an open mind and try not to judge people. Yet being human it’s only natural to do so and generally my opinion of a person is shaped by how they treat me. Of course I keep in mind that when I show up I’m there to get something, I’m asking for time and intimacy. It’s tough. I understand that this is difficult, even when your career relies to some degree on the heat that People Magazine and it’s 29 million readers generate.

The shoot with Natasha was sheer pleasure. It was one of those rare shoots that illustrate why what we do is such a privilege. I got to meet and learn something of life from a person of great character, humble and untouched by the mad swirl of celebrity she grew up in. Her civility, manners and core respect for others, along with her profound talent and cautious joy in life took her a long way. A portrait of the artist as a young woman.