Rob Dean in conversation with Doug Menuez

Interview  /  Artists
Published: 12.06.2017
Doug Menuez Doug Menuez
Rob Dean
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Doug Menuez gave one of the most riveting speeches I’ve ever heard. By the end, he had most of the audience in tears, determined to make the world a better place. That is what the organizer of a tech conference said after hearing Doug’s keynote address on the geniuses of Silicon Valley.
How did he gain the insights that allowed Doug to connect so powerfully? Doug got to know Steve Jobs well and produced the definitive treatment of the Silicon Valley boom. He was a photographer in search of a project in 1985 when Jobs set Menuez up on the inside to watch the digital revolution unfold over the next 15 years. Doug’s 2014 book Fearless Genius covers the critical years of Jobs’ exile from Apple.
For his photography exhibition Fearless Genius. The Digital Revolution 1985-2000 opening July 14, 2017, at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe, Doug presents images and stories that are the day-to-day account of the Silicon Valley innovators who changed the world. Patina’s exhibition of photography by Doug coincides with The Santa Fe Opera premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. Doug took time recently to talk with Patina Gallery about the exhibition.

As a photojournalist for the likes of Time, LIFE and The Washington Post, you had been to visually exciting hot spots. Then came the cerebral story of Steve Jobs at work. How did you go from one to the other?
I was tired of shooting tragedy and man’s inhumanity to man. At first, I was drawn to Steve Jobs because he was working on a supercomputer for education. He told me he wanted some student at Stanford to be able to cure cancer in his dorm room. It turned out they were creating machines that tapped human creativity. I ended up in the right place at right time. When I arrived in Silicon Valley, the innovators were confident they would succeed at building something important. As I watched, I began to think, “Wow, there is a chance they could change everything.” The power of ideas took over everything.

The story of Jobs and Silicon Valley was about the future. It seems incredibly challenging to capture the creative process going on in the mind. Did you anticipate that? How did you adapt your photojournalism to cover a story about ideas and the future instead of the whirl of a news event?
Some of my friends thought my Silicon Valley project sounded boring. It turned out there was drama. It was hard work for the innovators. They often worked through the night. The work drove some to the psych ward. It is true I ended up sitting in meeting after meeting. I would wait and watch and wait and watch until there was an explosion of activity. And my images showed change. People felt at home. They decorated their desks. They shed their suits and adopted a relaxed dress code. It became more exciting toward the end. It turned out a lot of what was happening was at the intersection of art and science. That intersection is so tricky but so exciting. There was something in these tools that inspired creativity. Toward the end, the development people said, “Maybe we don’t have a product but we’ll make money.” It became this gold rush. It was an unsustainable gold rush.

Geek Sex. Mountain View, California, 1991. Doug Menuez.​

When you gaze into your crystal ball, what does the future of technology look like? What excites you? And concerns you?
We still rely on technologies developed 25 or 30 years ago. What we see in the latest development today is the maturation of these technologies. There’s a next wave coming. It’s going to dwarf everything that came before. India and China are graduating more engineers every year than the United States graduates. But what we in the U.S. have is the culture of innovation. Silicon Valley is working on the future but is lacking engineers. Since 2000, the emphasis in the United States has been on products like apps and games that are designed to maximize short-term profits. I worry about a lack of boldness. I worry about the lack of long-term business planning. We must have high-end federal investments to achieve breakthroughs.

The story of Silicon Valley goes on. How do you keep the subject alive?
I’m going to find the fearless genius of the new generation. I don’t know who that is. He or she could be in Africa or India or China right now.
Exhibitions worldwide - in Russia, China, Spain and Switzerland, and at the Computer History Museum – have exposed 100 million people to my work. I’m focused on this era of a noble cause: a hope to improve the world for people. I have plans for a documentary film, a traveling exhibition and an integrated educational program. My plan is to bring the story into underserved communities and schools to inspire the coders and entrepreneurs of the future.

Exhortations, Incantations, Promises, and Threats, Redwood City, California, 1988. Doug Menuez​

What is the essence of your Patina Gallery exhibition?
People know of Steve Jobs. They get to see inside his world. These innovators built everything we use today, things we take for granted.
There is a romantic side: the sense of mission, a noble cause, the human side I think that’s missing in our culture today. I had one guy stand up at one of my lectures. He started crying and said he would go home, quit his job and start doing something important with his life.
The Silicon Valley story is one of blood, guts and money. It’s about the future of the human race and we have to have a voice.

About the Interviewee

Doug Menuez is an award-winning photographer whose career over 30 years has ranged from photo journalism to commissioned work, personal book projects and documentary film. The driving concern of all his work is to explore and reflect the realities of the human condition. After launching his career as a photojournalist in 1981 at The Washington Post, he became a regular assignment photographer for Time, Newsweek, LIFE, USA Today, Fortune, and many other publications worldwide.

About the author

Rob Dean has been Patina’s storyteller since 2015. A teacher, book editor and community volunteer, he published on the history of Santa Fe, N.M., in 2010. He holds an M.A. in history and was a newspaper journalist for 38 years.