SANDY, MEET NIKON; NIKON, MEET SANDY

My wife and I awoke in our apartment the Monday morning after Hurricane Sandy hit to find we had no power and, worse, no plumbing and, even worse, no Internet. As for cell service, it was ridiculously spotty. We were 16 floors up, our apartment surrounded by water, with a production meeting scheduled with my clients from Nikon’s Tokyo ad agency K&L, who had arrived from Japan just before the storm. We were supposed to shoot a worldwide marketing and ad campaign for a top-secret new camera, the COOLPIX A. And Nikon was also planning to shoot a video of me working with this new camera, directed by the distinguished director Naoki Fukada. I hadn’t seen the camera, let alone learned how it worked or used it. Let’s just say I was very nervous.

Our clients—who were on the 16th floor of the Standard Hotel—also awoke to find they had no power, toilets that didn’t work, and no means to communicate. My studio building on West 26th Street, which houses my servers, computers, and gear, was flooded, along with the whole neighborhood. The basement and first floor remained underwater, with crews pumping water like mad into the street. I called 300 hotels to try to find a place to stay, with no luck. Finally, after a frantic few hours, I managed to secure a friend’s empty apartment uptown where my wife and I could evacuate. I got our stuff up there and myself back down to my studio to secure our servers and get ready for the production meeting.

We met in my freezing, dark studio to plan the shoot, which started on Wednesday and ran through Friday. Mr. Miyama, the veteran producer, and his associate Naoya Watanabe were already hard at work booking talent who’d been cast the Friday before. We had about 20 talent to locate in the middle of a disaster, all around the boroughs. Real people plus the model agencies had to be contacted and logistics arranged for talent and crew. Everyone on our crew and most of the talent were without power or transportation. How would the talent even get into Manhattan? The bridges and tunnels were closed, and subways and trains were all down. It was hard to see how we could manage all this. I was more than worried at this point.

The meeting started. I asked Gen Umei, my longtime friend and client from K&L, if he thought we should reschedule the shoot. “No! Absolutely not! We must proceed!” Then he smiled and we both laughed, because over the last 10 years we had shared some amazing but extremely difficult shoots for Nikon around the world. This would be no different.

The producers and agency folks were also talking about our predicament when suddenly everyone got quiet. Gen was opening a black bag and pulling out three prototypes of the new Nikon COOLPIX A. He instructed us to never say its name, as it was so top secret. We all signed nondisclosures and agreed to no Facebook or Twitter postings. We decided to call it our “friend” for the rest of the shoot. I would be the first in the world to use it, and I was beyond excited.

The COOLPIX A looks like a gorgeous, small black rangefinder, but actually is the world’s smallest compact DSLR with a DX CMOS sensor. When I held it, I was surprised to feel that it was made of metal, not plastic. And it came with a fixed 18mm 2.8 lens (equivalent to 28mm), which was a fine idea, the 28 being a classic lens for street shooting. I was in love. I’d been hoping Nikon would make something like this for years. My favorite thing to do is walk the streets and document what I see, and I’d always wanted a very lightweight, unobtrusive camera that could also deliver high-quality files. Well, here it was. I read the specs: 16.2 mp files, 4 frames per second, and full 1080 p HD video with stereo sound. And I could shoot manual. Clearly, this was designed to be more than an advanced amateur point-and-shoot; it would also meet the needs of pros. There was more to learn, but I wanted to go shoot with this thing, storm be damned.

We produced shoots with some very interesting talent and situations, and it was pretty wild getting around the city, to Brooklyn and back, with our driver sitting on a gas line for three hours every night. Mr. Miyama and his team managed to get almost all the talent to all the shoots, although almost all our locations were closed due to flooding. Most of our shoot was to take place on the High Line, for example, and months of meticulous location scouting and planning had been invested, but the High Line was closed down. We scrambled for replacement locations.

In between the produced shoots, they let me roam freely around the streets so I could grab real moments. Although they were paying me to test the camera and appear in a promotional video, I have never promoted something that did not truly work for me. The COOLPIX A was a dream to shoot with. Fast, quiet, small, and nonthreatening. Fun. And after I got the files downloaded, I confirmed they were beautiful. Outstanding results for such a small package, the lens bokeh was lovely, and it was superb at low noise in low light, as expected with anything Nikon.

By Friday, we had a great range of stuff from all around downtown, from West Chelsea to the Lower East Side to DUMBO. But we were all completely exhausted. (It also felt surreal not to be covering the disaster itself.) I had been driving pre-dawn every day from the Upper West Side—I still didn’t have power at my apartment—down to our shoot. I was really missing my home, clean clothes, and the other things we take for granted. But as I learned the extent of the damage that the horrific storm caused in the other boroughs, I realized how incredibly blessed I was compared to those who lost everything.

I said goodbye to Gen and my clients that night and started to drive uptown to my wife, Tereza. As I reached the corner of 26th Street and 10th Avenue, there was a surge of light all around as the power was switched on after five days of complete darkness in lower Manhattan. Tenth Avenue had been under water, but now lights were glowing all the way down the avenue. What an incredible sight. We got our shoot done despite Sandy, and I was going to go home after all.

Monday
04
March 2013

IN GANGNAM EVERYDAY IS GANGNAM STYLE

It took a billion hits on “Gangnam Style” before I finally got around to checking out the video. So I’m watching this crazy guy and catch some quick cuts of Seoul and wondering what the hell Gangnam Style means and something tugs a memory. This area where we were shooting in Seoul a few years back really struck me then as unusually hyper-stylish, expensive and fashionable. It was like Roppongi Hills meets Beverly Hills on crack. I was jet-lagged and flew in for two quick days shoot at Chaum, a futuristic longevity medical center. So I looked on google and yup, we shot in the Gangnam District it turns out. It’s real, forms a neighborhood on the South side of the river in Seoul, and the basis for the style driving Psy’s video. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gangnam_District)

For those as easily amused by coincidence as I am, here’s a quick look at the actual Gangnam of everyday in the streets around the Hyatt and at Chaum in 2 galleries below.

©Photographs by Doug Menuez/Stockland Martel

Tuesday
08
January 2013

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NEW PARADE MAG COVER SHOOT: BUSH 41

On shooting President Bush for the second time for the cover of Parade Magazine.

There are celebrity shoots, and then there are celebrity shoots. Most involve tense publicists and tense famous people not thrilled to be photographed, as well as very tense crews full of stylists, assistants, etc., not to mention the very tense photographer upon whose shoulders the final result will rest. When the celebrity in question is the former President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, and his wife, Barbara Bush, for the cover of Parade magazine with a circulation of approximately, oh, 1 billion or so, one might expect a double dose of all of the above.

But with Bush 41, it was nothing but relaxing ocean breezes, Kennebunkport casual hospitality, and zero tense anything. The Bushes are very much a down-to-earth semi-retired power couple—what you see is literally what you get. (read more below)

This is not to say I wasn’t terrified anyway and working at a fever pitch despite the calm setting. And I had been warned by the incredibly kind Bush family publicist, Jean Becker, that President Bush would be in a wheelchair and had great difficulty walking. And I had only one assistant—just like on a news assignment—and no stylists, and we did have a very tight time frame to work within given the state of President Bush’s health, which is stable but certainly declining with his advancing age and a form of Parkinson’s that limits his ability to walk.

Everyone at Parade—photo director Miriam White-Lorentzen, editor-in-chief Maggie Murphy, creative director Richard Baker, and writer, reporter and LBJ Library Director Mark K. Updegrove—was extremely supportive and counting on me to not only nail a candid portrait for the cover but also somehow make something happen that might yield inside images, as well. I expected I would have 10 minutes. In the end, I had that and maybe 5 minutes more after the interview.

I shot what I could during the interview over Mark’s shoulder, and when my time came I got the cover shot quickly, with the Bushes on the couch where they had been sitting. Listening to them talk, I was taken back to a different political era, when despite the passions of the left and right, laws were passed, compromises were made. A lifelong Democrat, I leave my politics at the door when I’m shooting journalism. But I love history and the people who make it, so I bring an open mind and a level of respect even to those I might disagree with.

Knowing that movement would be a huge challenge, Jean encouraged me to simply ask President Bush for whatever I needed. And from my past cover shoot with him, I knew that he loved getting outdoors and to the sea in particular. I thought somehow getting him over to the window would make sense and would give me some opportunity to make a more lasting image of an American President toward the end of his life. I decided to take the risk and made my pitch.

While I was suggesting that he and Barbara come over to the French doors overlooking the sea, I quickly moved a wingback chair and lamp. I came close to the President and looked him in the eye and said I’d like to shoot him looking out at the sea that he loves so much. “Getting all arts and crafty, aren’t you, Doug?” said the President. “Exactly,” I admitted. “But I think it’s worth a try.” “Great. Let’s do it,” he said and began to rise.

Immediately, it was obvious he couldn’t really walk at all. He made a half step and held position while Barbara had one elbow and I grabbed the other. At one point, I let Jean and others help him move while I moved the chair to the best angle for him to slide in. It was excruciating to watch this man struggle step by step. At one point, someone loudly said, “Mr. President, you don’t have to do this!” He smiled, turned, and forcefully said, “I’m gonna make it!” and “We’re gonna do this picture!”

He was determined and slowly but surely made it into the chair, which I rotated back to the sea. There, I made a quick shot of him looking out the windows and then jumped outside and closed the door behind me. My quick-thinking assistant, Josh Dick, who specializes in mind-reading photographers, was ready to help as he realized the reflections would be cool on the glass but would also obscure their faces due to the lighting conditions. He held up his jacket to flag their faces, and I gestured for them to come close together.

I made a couple of portraits that worked, both of them fairly radiant and looking in tremendous health despite all their earlier talk about being old and their imminent demise. I called a wrap. Then in an instant, Barbara leaned over and kissed the President on the head. I barely fired one shot. This is my favorite image from the shoot and the picture I will take away as an authentic reflection of their relationship but also kind of interesting as it was shot through the glass. It’s intimate and real, and I’m proud of it. A bit of directing on my part, but even with something conceptual there happen to be real moments that are gifts, and I was lucky enough to press the shutter just in time. Within the context of a celebrity shoot where there is a lot of pressure, I think these little moments are the greatest gifts. This is what I always strive to bring back—something more than expected.

I did push beyond what I might normally do given his high station and health, but nothing great ever happens without risk. I  also sensed in him a desire to make it happen and the grit to get to that window.

http://stocklandmartelblog.com/2012/07/17/doug-menuez-on-photographing-former-president-george-h-w-bush-and-barbara-bush-for-parade-magazine-cover-story/

Wednesday
18
July 2012

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Farewell, Dick Clark (from Stockland Martel Blog)

Back in 2000, veteran creative director Jeff Griffith asked me to do Dick Clark’s portrait for his Atomic magazine interview. We showed up with my longtime stylist extraordinaire, Juliette Smith, at Mr. Clark’s Santa Monica Boulevard headquarters early one morning and were put in a waiting room so stuffed full of rock & roll  history and memorabilia that we couldn’t speak. Our eyes were bugging out of our heads as we tweaked on one sacred relic after another, the iconography of the religion of rock: an early Chuck Berry guitar; Little Richard’s first 45 rpm of “Long Tall Sally”; signed kit from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, you name it. Plus, original jukeboxes stuffed with old records, posters, letters, clothing—just about everything that Dick Clark could gather to tell the story of American music and his own role in helping launch rock & roll through his seminal show American Bandstand. The collection continued down all the halls and throughout the bunker-like offices…

Read full post here >>  http://stocklandmartelblog.com/2012/04/18/farewell-dick-clark/

 

Sunday
22
April 2012

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MOSCOW PHOTOBIENNALE: “FEARLESS GENIUS” INAUGURAL EXHIBITION

Just back from Moscow Photobiennale- what an amazing experience! The Russians have a long tradition of scientific and engineering excellence and seemed to really appreciate my project on Steve Jobs and Silicon Valley in the Digital Revolution. My booth was mobbed the whole night and 600 people showed up to hear my lecture Saturday at Skolkovo, the new tech institute and business school modeled after Stanford and MIT. They want to build the next Silicon Valley in Moscow and it looks like they can do it. Education and history are so important in Russia, which are key themes in my work I hope to create dialog around here in the US. What Olga Sviblova has built with the Moscow House of Photography is so impressive, a stunning cultural landmark for photography. Also inspiring was the work of my fellow photographers. I was honored to exhibit alongside such great artists as Harry Gruyeart, Andrew Bush, Alec Soth, Alinka Echeverria, Stephen Shore, Ouyang XIngkai, hilarious madman Tim Davis, Sergey Shestokov, Jane Stravs and several others. Getting to know some of them and hear their stories was life affirming for me. The vodka, great food and the Metro – which is like an art museum itself worth the trip – were all a sweet bonus to the trip.

Wednesday
04
April 2012

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MY “FEARLESS GENIUS” PROJECT IN MOSCOW PHOTOBIENALE!

Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow | Exhibitions | FEARLESS GENIUS: THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION IN SILICON VALLEY 1985-2000

 

I’m thrilled to announce the world premier exhibition of my project “FEARLESS GENIUS: THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION 1985-2000” which is opening at the Moscow Photobiennale, March 29th, at the Central Exhibition Hall on Red Square. In addition, I’m giving a lecture on the 31st on my work documenting the digital revolution at Skolkovo Innovation Centre and Institute of Science and Technology. This is a project I’ve been working on for decades, which all began when Steve Jobs let me shadow him for three years, and includes a documentary film, app, book and educational program.

This show was a fantastic surprise and came at just the right moment. I have to thank Olga Sviblova, director of MAMM, for choosing this material, and Jean Jacques Naudet for his championing it on La Lettre de la Photographie .

I’ve been working for a few years to edit and scan the work which has been insanely difficult because I shot so much stuff. 250,000 negs were counted by the master picture editor Karen Mullarkey who has been working on this since 2004 when Stanford University Libraries acquired the archive. If you’re in Moscow then please come to both.

Monday
12
March 2012

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La Lettre Features “Fearless Genius” Project

For constant inspiration, education, and exposure to the unexpected please visit the vast photographic universe that is La Lettre de la Photographie. The range of material they present is incredible, eclectic and global. I know of no other source quite like this. We all get locked up sometimes in our own private hell of work. We know we should go out and see the shows. When we do, our world brightens a bit, we get ideas, we get energized. La Lettre is like that, but via the internet. Cé tout.

So I was honored to see my long-term project about Steve Jobs and the development of new technology in Silicon Valley during the digital revolution in the 80’s and 90’s featured on La Lettre. I must thank Jean-Jacques Naudet and Gilles Descamps for the lovely presentation. Gradually the project is progressing, with a lot of new scans, plus getting some interviews done for my film and book. But seeing it here makes it a bit more real after all this time working on it. Have a look if you get a moment:

La Lettre de la Photographie

http://lalettredelaphotographie.com/archives/by_date/2011-12-06/4844/doug-menuez-la-saga-de-silicon-valley

Tuesday
13
December 2011

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COPYRIGHT IS NOT DEAD… yet.

Robert Levine has written a surprisingly readable, fascinating deconstruction of the rapid breakdown of the music and entertainment industry business model that began in the late 90’s and continues. “Free Ride: How the Internet is Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business can Fight Back” is a sign of life for copyright as thinking people are sorting out how to save it. He details how the rapid rise of piracy as the internet grew, along with downloading and file sharing of music and videos, killed a muilti-billion dollar industry and taught a generation that stealing was ok. He does not cover photography, but our world and methods of earning a living from the sweat of our labor, also was devastated by the fantastic and wonderful new digital technologies. Russell Brown of Adobe once said about Photoshop in the beginning that it would not kill photography, it would simply be a new tool. With a hammer you can build a house or tear it down, he said. And I agree. The tearing down phase of our happy world has gone on mostly unabated by young happy consumers of free everything. The bad karma Steve Job’s predicted for these youngster’s naive theft may be that there are no jobs waiting as they graduate with their photography degrees. It’s time to start rebuilding.

Understanding what happened is part of the process of rectifying the situation. I recommend this book highly to all photographers. I’m hoping he’ll add an addendum about photography in the next edition.

Article in Businessweek about Google’s anti-copyright lobbying –
Saturday
29
October 2011

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A SABEDORIA DO BRASIL: A work in progress

I’m just back from Brazil where I’m continuing work on a project that seeks to find the roots of a vast culture at a time of massive change. Check out some of the images below. These are just a few from a small segment of the project about the Jangadeiros of the Northeast, traditional fisherman who risk their lives everyday in simple boats. I expect this to track over a few years and will post new material as time allows.

A Sabedoria do Brasil project traces a visitor’s journey (me) through a vast country with a singular mission: to gather the favorite proverbs, idiomatic sayings and stories of diverse people from all walks of life in every region. These sayings and proverbs, while sometimes trite, often provide real comfort and meaning while revealing the hidden roots and collective wisdom of the Brazilian psyche. It’s a simple idea that yields a fresh way to look at the culture.

Brazil is on fire with change. Beaches, Samba, Carnival and fútbol, although still fundamentally part of the culture, are moving into a supporting role as business is booming. Just as the country declared energy independence they found one of the world’s largest reserves of oil. The Olympics and World Cup are coming and real estate is off the hook expensive. The economy grew at something like 7.5% last year and although down closer to 5% this year is still smoking the US and Europe. The world is watching as the previously tagged “country of tomorrow” is fast becoming the country of today. Although the infrastructure remains challenging, crime and poverty are still massive problems, there is a new expanding middle class and lots of manufacturing, technology, financial and business jobs.  Brazil’s first female president recently took office and is continuing the trade practices of her predecessor.

Yet traditions remain, as you can see in these images of the fisherman of Flecheiras, Ceará. Orson Welles began a film about them in the early 1940’s that was never finished. The cinematography was stunning, and I took that as a good enough inspiration to make the trek up there to meet and visit. One older man told us a story about his grandfather out to sea and trying to drown a cat they discovered on board eating their bait. They pulled up the line later and were shocked to discover the cat tangled in their line, but amazingly grasping dozens of fish in its claws and teeth. Shocked but happy, they kept the cat going at this and came back with double their usual catch. As I listened at first I completely accepted this story as I’ve seen a lot of mysterious stuff in Brazil at this point. But then as I questioned the fisherman he then said that he heard this from his grandfather as the god’s truth.

And then his grandfather told him: “O pescador  não mente; ele aumenta, mas não inventa.”   “The fisherman doesn’t lie–he might embellish, but doesn’t invent.”

Thursday
06
October 2011

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MOVING ON: HAWK APOLOGIZES TO JAY MAISEL (KIND OF)

See Jeremy Nicholl’s blog as he’s posted Thomas Hawk’s strange apology. I take this as progress of some kind, although the whole thing was totally, sadly unnecessary. (Clarification: this parody apology is to me as good as the real thing as I don’t expect anything better, although still unsatisfying.)

Stockbroker Thomas Hawk [Parody] Apologises To Photographer Jay Maisel For Smear Campaign » The Russian Photos Blog

Monday
18
July 2011

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