DPP Home Profiles Doug Menuez: Master of The Long Form

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Doug Menuez: Master of The Long Form

Douglas Menuez peers through his lens into the human heart when he creates his photo essays

After graduation he moved to Washington, D.C., for a coveted internship at The Washington Post, and in 1980 he embarked on a meteoric freelancing career that saw him contributing to nearly every major editorial publication and high-end advertising client in the United States. He proved his mettle through a chameleonic ability to pivot between modes.

“I would do celebrities for People, crack houses for Newsweek, portraits for Business Week—it was like I had multiple personalities!” recalls Menuez.

Bridging these modes was his talent for telegraphing emotional content through composition. In photo after photo, arms, shadows, furniture and architectural details offset his subject matter with ingenious framing devices and negative space, often in ways that threw foreground and background into bracing relief. This was and is the essence of the Menuez style, and it continues to win him top bookings through his agency, Stockland Martel.

In the mid-1990s, despite creative and financial validation, Menuez felt something was missing. He was yearning to reconnect with his own editorial voice. After years of assignments that sent him into war zones and countries wracked by famine and disease, he made a conscious decision, he says, “to find examples of tangible positive change and try to capture the beauty and dignity of people enduring desperate situations.”

Menuez found he was able to do this through photo essays that went beyond the concrete and dealt with universal subjects. His book Boy, 8 is an affectionate ode to youth, comprised of images of his son. Heaven, Earth, Tequila offers a poetic take on the culture surrounding tequila production in Jalisco, Mexico. His latest long-form project, Transcendent Spirit: The Orphans of Uganda, chronicles the resilience of East African children in the face of civil war and a pernicious AIDS epidemic. Profits from the book benefit the Empower African Children Foundation. Currently, Menuez is working on a book to be culled from the 250,000 images he took in Silicon Valley in the 1980s and ’90s, when he was granted unprecedented access to Apple cofounder Steve Jobs and others in the trenches of the personal-computing revolution.

In contrast to his commercial and editorial work, “where everything has to be so clear and simple,” he says, Menuez views his personal projects as a vehicle for engaging “the incongruity, absurdity, joy and commonalities of our urge to connect with one another.”

How to balance these imperatives with his career—bookings, teaching workshops, fine-art shows at Farmani Gallery in New York and Los Angeles, forays into filmmaking and his collaboration with the Stanford University Library, which recently acquired his archives—is a task he grapples with daily. Even as he supervises his production office in SoHo and an additional studio upstate, Menuez strives for simplicity in the eye of the storm.

“My cell phone,” he relates, “used to have a screen saver that came on every morning. Whenever I turned it on—for years—two words would come up on the screen: ‘Find beauty.’”

Impeccable composition and powerful framing have enabled Douglas Menuez to create some of the strongest photo essays to explore the incongruous, absurd and joyful nature of people and their environment. Whether he’s traveling to Mexico to trace the origins of tequila or going to Uganda to tell the stories of a generation of AIDS orphans, he has strived to seek out the beauty and dignity of people in desperate situations. Menuez crafts traditional long-form photo essays that convey stories of the human condition. His photographs are clear, simple and powerful. He captures the essence.

You can see more of Douglas Menuez’s work at www.menuez.com. A contributing critic at ARTnews and Art Ltd., Richard Speer has penned reviews and features for Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times and Salon. He’s the author of the biography Matt Lamb: The Art of Success (John Wiley & Sons).


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