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's keen observation skills provided a solution. The man was talking with a friend who wasn't Masai and looked friendly. Menuez approached the friend, shot his portrait and quickly turned the camera around to show him his smiling face on the display.
“He went nuts,” recalls Menuez. “He loved it and called his Masai friend over to see, who was amazed and delighted. He pointed to himself and indicated that I should immediately take his picture.”
But there was one caveat: The photographer was only allowed to take two frames. Click, click. The rest, as they say, is history.
After the fateful shoot, Menuez found a rural phone system to transmit the images to Paris where the A Day in the Life of Africa team was standing by to start editing the book. His images were the first shots the team saw, which helped them remember the pictures later on when they were inundated with tens of thousands of images from 100 photographers. “I was able to get my work in front of the editors quickly, which certainly helped my chances of getting published, not to mention getting the cover.”
Menuez's infectious enthusiasm and easygoing nature are apparent to anyone who meets him, but they belie his description of himself as a neurotic control freak. He's learning to surrender to the fact that he can't control everything, and if problems do arise on set, his extensive experience and trust in himself give him the confidence that there will be a solution.
Menuez's motto: Stay calm, never panic. “As a photojournalist, you're out there alone, against the world, but working with a crew on a shoot, I've had to become a better human being,” he laughs. “I've tried to create an environment with the best people—total pros—so I know the underlying structure is there, which allows me to be looser and keep the set fun and light. Although it's hard to do that with so much pressure, I'm not being shot at or run down the street by an angry mob. Advertising should be fun.”
During ad shoots, Menuez mixes his photojournalistic approach with that of a filmmaker's, creating scenarios using actors or real people and giving them roles to play. Only then can he relax, observe and be a fly on the wall—waiting for the talent to forget that he's there. “I'm trying to get real moments on these almost theatrically staged events,” he says.
In photojournalism, events unfold spontaneously—whether they're tragic or beautiful, or both—while everything has to be under control during a commercial shoot. And yet, you still need to capture a natural-looking moment. “That's why my photojournalism experience is so important—you understand how real life looks,” he says. “It's also about anticipating the moment and understanding human behavior. Traveling all over the world teaches you to listen, to watch and to wait. You become a bit of a visual anthropologist. You can utilize that skill to recognize and get body language that's unexpected and real. So even though it's simulated, it's also not simulated.”
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