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Monday, June 11, 2007

Doug Menuez - Journalist's Eye

Photographer Doug Menuez's years of photojournalism experience lend a fresh realism to his commercial and fine-art work

Menuez began building a digital darkroom with an early Barneyscan and Tektronix wax-based printer in 1989. Then he moved on to a dye-sublimation printer, followed by Epson printers as soon as they hit the market.

“With the Epson 9000 and now the 10000, my studio is completely digital and I no longer have a darkroom,” says the photographer, who favors his Nikon D1x. “Whether we shoot film and scan it or shoot digital, the final prints are all made either on the Epson, or on occasion we send out for LightJet prints. These are very high-res, high-color-gamut-range, 4000 dpi prints that are made on a LightJet digital printer, which uses lasers to expose silver-halide material.”

Just as in a darkroom, Menuez dodges and burns images using Photoshop, but feels he can be more precise and do the work much faster digitally. “I don't manipulate images in terms of cutting off heads and putting them on other bodies, but I do shift color, darken and lighten areas, add contrast and tone, much as I would in the darkroom,” he says. “But for the most part, I'm not creating images in post by merging them—just enhancing what I got when I pressed the shutter.”

For him, the choice between film and digital is an intuitive one. While his personal work is 90-percent digital, the split is 60-percent film to 40-percent digital on jobs. Says Menuez, “It's an emotional decision to choose film. It's based on a mood or feeling in the subtext of the imagery—not that you can't re-create some of that in Photoshop, but not everything can be re-created. If something is super-important, I'll shoot film along with digital. There are times when there are questions in my mind about digital, even while I'm embracing it.”

No doubt there are trade-offs with both mediums. Menuez, who's constantly on the move and shoots fast and furiously, found that digital's shutter lag forced him to slow down at first. On the other hand, the freedom of going beyond film's limit of 36 shots and the ability to capture color and easily morph it into black-and-white makes digital more generous. But the primary and priceless advantage of digital is the ability to see and interact with the material right away.

According to Menuez, “The immediacy and flexibility that digital gives me to create my work is unparalleled.” While shooting digital in Tanzania for the A Day in the Life of Africa book, Menuez and his assistant worked in tandem; once the memory card was full, Menuez would pass it to his assistant, who would download the images on a laptop computer right there in the bush.

“We could show people what we were getting right away,” he says. “The reaction was so positive, it helped create trust and gain access. After the shoot, as we were bouncing along the main dirt road heading back to Dar Es Salaam, I held the computer on my lap and edited.”

Using Photoshop, Menuez converted some of the images into black-and-white, which he had visualized while shooting, and then dodged and burned and added duotone to those images. The color images were left mainly intact, except for minor sharpening and, in some cases, increasing the saturation. In most of Menuez's A Day in the Life of Africa pictures, aside from the black-and-white conversion, what you see is what he captured.

In fact, digital played a pivotal role in getting the images he coveted for the Day in the Life of Africa project. Case in point: Menuez spotted a Masai gentleman whose photograph would end up beating out thousands of images to become the book's cover. The Masai are known for their reluctance to be photographed, so the image wouldn't come easily.


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