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Doug Menuez


Fearless Genius

The Extraordinary Members feature in the ASMP Bulletin’s fall issue was excerpted from our more extensive Q&A with Menuez, published here in full.

 

ASMP: You began your career as a photojournalist, added advertising into the mix, with a big studio and related overhead, then scaled back and refocused your archive to present yourself more specifically as a brand. Please briefly describe what you’ve learned from these many transitions and how you see yourself moving forward from here.

 

Doug Menuez: A very hard lesson was learning how to say no gracefully to the things that I didn’t want to do. That’s hard for any freelancer, but I was burning out trying to please everyone. I used to kind of laugh when I would hear about a “difficult” photographer. Now I think, “yeah, well they were probably just fighting for their vision and integrity and perhaps they could have been more diplomatic.” But I also had to really hone in on what I was born to do, what I’m passionate about, and save myself for those kinds of projects. Those two things go together and they changed my life for the better. Having said that, I then had to let go of fear — saying no can also isolate you in a hurry. But you can’t be for everyone.

 

Steve Jobs, January 1987
Steve Jobs, January 1987
© Doug Menuez

ASMP: If you had to pick the one most important thing you learned from your Fearless Genius project over the years what would it be?

 

DM: Remembering what I learned from Steve Jobs about absolutely never giving up on your dreams. When I met him he was at the lowest point of his career thus far. We thought it would be a swift comeback. Instead he slogged through a decade of struggle and failure and yet he refused to give up. He was almost broke when it all turned around. He had a vision for what he wanted to do and that’s what saved him in the end. I mean, it could have never turned around, but he figured you are going to die anyway so push for what you believe in. This sounds cliché, and it’s hard to hang in there as you walk through the fire, but anything worth doing takes way more effort than we can possibly imagine when we set out. And I think of him when I’m faced with really tough decisions. The phrase “I’d rather die on my feet fighting then on my knees begging” comes to mind.

 

ASMP: You’ve made an arrangement with Stanford University to house your archive. What kind of process led to this arrangement and how long did it take?

 

DM: I’m blessed this happened because many photographers don’t have a home for their work or plan for that. In my case, I had this material that made sense for them to have: Over fifteen years I kept up shooting in Silicon Valley and it turned out to be an unusual thing, one person with this body of work — 250,000 negatives — that so happened to cover the major players of the digital revolution, behind the scenes as it happened. Stanford is building a massive collection of Silicon Valley history, so they acquired my archive and created the Douglas Menuez Collection at Stanford University Library in 2004. It happened very quickly, over three or four months perhaps. They’ve been scanning and preserving material to make the work available as a resource to scholars and historians.

 

If a photographer has an archive they believe would be valuable to a given institution, they need to find a very good tax attorney or IP attorney who is familiar with placing archives in the academic world. They can also reach out to the curator or library director to see if there is interest and to ask for information. If they are interested, they can help the process along; but you still need to have your own representation. Donors who purchase archives for placements can get tax benefits that make it pretty attractive. There are appraisals involved, but all of this is may be changing with revisions to the tax code. I am not an expert by a long shot, even after going through this process, because there are various ways to accomplish this.

 

ASMP: Based on your multi-faceted career path and the multiple times you’ve reinvented yourself, what do you see as the biggest hurdles photographers face in the current marketplace and the most significant business oversights they make?

 

DM: I think the biggest hurdle is one we actually have some control over: Shooting outstanding, amazing, singular work and presenting it in the simplest, most powerful way to the right people. It’s tough now, as the traditional business models in photojournalism and commercial are kind of broken, while at the same time we’re seeing a flood of talented new photographers jumping into the market. The fine art world has not been disrupted — it’s just gotten tighter perhaps. On the other hand, in the early ’70s a high school counselor told me that there were no jobs in photography. So it’s always tough, but if you want something bad enough it’s possible. We all have to be more resourceful these days and develop multiple revenue streams — assignment, print sales, stock, teaching workshops and so forth. But all of it is easier if you can show us something different that no one else can do. The most significant oversight might be the failure to learn basic cash-flow management and business skills. Without cash flow there is no art.

 

ASMP: Earlier this year you participated with the Copyright Alliance in a Congressional Update for Congressman Nadler during a meeting in New York. Please describe this experience.

 

DM: This was a very important opportunity to share some of our views with an important and influential member of Congress. I was honored to be included and hope I the congressman found it useful. My point was that copyright laws have allowed me to feed my family, put my kid through college, buy a house and employ many people over the years. Copyright is all about preserving a powerful creative force in our economy that creates jobs.

 


© Doug Menuez / Stockland Martel

 

ASMP: Please talk specifically about work you’ve done on behalf of ASMP over the years.

 

DM: I never feel I can do enough for ASMP and probably never will be able to as long as I’m working for a living. I’ve always believed in the community of photographers and giving back in the way so many gave to me as a young photographer. We all need to encourage and support each other, as we all benefit from a stronger group. My primary work for ASMP has been as a volunteer speaker wherever I’m invited around the country. Be it in Virginia, California or New York, I’m always happy to visit the chapters and share whatever I can that might be useful. I can’t imagine what our business would be like without the ASMP fighting for our interests all these years.

 

ASMP: You’ve recently been presenting your work through the self-publishing Web sites such as Issuu and MagCloud. What led you to use these sites and what kind of response have these pieces generated?

 

DM: I love Issuu for its easy interface and presentation. I used this platform to share a publication of new work that my agents at Stockland Martel and I did called “Year in the Life: 2012,” which got a great response. Issuu has a magazine marketplace that seems very cool, but I’ve not tapped into it yet. However, I’ve heard that Issuu has muddled their terms and conditions sort of like Facebook, so photographers should beware and check the boilerplate terms. Until I understand the intentions, I’m shifting to HP’s Magcloud, which offers similar services and reasonable digital printing. I’m doing brochures and promo pieces on this platform and the quality is very good. In fact, I printed a large run of “Year in the Life” books from Magcloud and the result was lots of interest and a massive library shoot for Charles Schwab.

 

View Year in the Life: 2012

 

ASMP: Are there any upcoming plans or developments about your own projects that you can share?

 

DM: My book Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000 comes out from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster in May 2014. We are working on the documentary film, hopefully out in Fall 2014, and a non-profit education program. I have an upcoming exhibit of the work in Shenyang, China as well. My next project is about the rapidly changing culture of Brazil; I’ve done preliminary work on this but can’t get back to it until I finish Fearless Genius.