Cap­tur­ing ge­nius Doug Menuez pho­to­graphs the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion


Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Paul Wei­de­man The New Mex­i­can

In 1985, doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­pher Doug Menuez had just re­turned to the U.S. from cov­er­ing famine and civil war in Ethiopia. Dur­ing the pre­vi­ous sev­eral years, IBM had in­tro­duced the first PC and Ap­ple be­gan sell­ing the first Mac­in­tosh com­put­ers. Steve Jobs, Ap­ple’s co-founder and star technologist, was be­ing forced out of the com­pany while giv­ing birth to an­other one, NeXT Com­puter. His goal was to de­sign a pow­er­ful com­pact com­puter for stu­dents. Menuez had found his next fo­cus. “I knew ed­u­ca­tion was key to ev­ery so­cial is­sue that I was cov­er­ing as a jour­nal­ist,” he said, “and that’s why I’m in­ter­ested now in find­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of in­no­va­tors and en­cour­ag­ing them to think big­ger and try harder to go for hard sci­ence.”

Menuez, who spent 15 years pho­tograph­ing the com­puter-tech world of Jobs, Bill Gates, and other in­no­va­tors, has been speak­ing around the world (in­clud­ing in Santa Fe on July 19) about his ex­pe­ri­ences and em­pha­siz­ing that people need to track what’s go­ing on in the dig­i­tal realm. His pho­to­graphs are fea­tured in Fear­less Ge­nius: The Dig­i­tal Rev­o­lu­tion in Sil­i­con Val­ley, 1985-2000 (Atria Books, 2014); a se­lec­tion of those im­ages is ex­hib­ited at Patina Gallery through Aug. 13. Menuez spoke to Pasatiempo from his home in New York State.

Pasatiempo: How im­por­tant was everything you saw hap­pen­ing in Sil­i­con Val­ley all those decades ago? Doug Menuez: The tech­nol­ogy that I pho­tographed be­ing built laid the ground­work for everything we have to­day, from outer space to our kitchens. It was just this amaz­ing amount of hu­man cre­ativ­ity packed into 15 years. It was sort of like a mini-re­nais­sance that shifted our econ­omy from manufacturing to in­for­ma­tion. It shifted our cul­ture, and the na­ture of work changed. Pasa: I won­der why it hap­pened right then? Menuez: It goes to the core of my thing, what I’m speak­ing about, which says that his­tory only mat­ters if you want to avoid re­peat­ing the mis­takes of the past. We don’t teach his­tory much. To­day’s en­trepreneurs and in­no­va­tors don’t know this his­tory. It’s not taught, but there are def­i­nitely lessons there. It’s to­tally pos­si­ble to go back to the Gold Rush and the be­gin­ning of Cal­i­for­nia en­tre­pre­neur cul­ture and the elec­tron­ics cul­ture in San Francisco in the 1920s, and then you have the 1940s and the cri­sis of World War II, and Stan­ford push­ing out pro­fes­sors to start com­pa­nies to build radar and mi­crowaves. And then you have [Wil­liam] Shock­ley move back to Cal­i­for­nia from Bell Labs af­ter he in­vented the tran­sis­tor, and boom — you had a whole semi­con­duc­tor in­dus­try, and then it flow­ered from there.

Then Steve Jobs came along, this gen­er­a­tion of hu­man­ist hip­pies that were mid­dle-class kids go­ing to mid­dle-class schools. The whole world was open to them be­cause they’d dropped LSD; they had all these so­cial-ben­e­fit ideas; they wanted to im­prove the world; they had a noble cause. Steve Jobs brought out the Ap­ple II and it ex­ploded the per­sonal com­puter in­dus­try and it was like a fire­hose of money pour­ing in on the fire of tal­ent, everything hap­pen­ing at the right place at the right time.

Pasa: We understand the idea of the driven artist, but these were driven geeks. Menuez: Yes, but Steve was like an artist. These people were like that, be­cause you had to merge the ide­al­ism and a sort of naive op­ti­mism with the sci­ence skill set. Pasa: In your pho­tos, we see ap­par­ently or­di­nary people work­ing, hav­ing emo­tions, deal­ing with prob­lems, look­ing ex­ul­tant, look­ing wor­ried, hav­ing con­fronta­tions, and just busily en­gaged. We don’t re­ally see the re­sults — the shiny com­put­ers and ma­chine learn­ing.

Noth­ing com­pared to be­ing with Steve Jobs and lis­ten­ing to him tell what was com­ing in the fu­ture. — pho­tog­ra­pher Doug Menuez

Menuez: This is like vis­ual an­thro­pol­ogy: How do people work? How do they do things? My friends thought I was an id­iot be­cause they said it was un­pho­tograph­able. But it turns out these people were hu­man, and they had hopes and dreams and be­haved like ev­ery­one else. I think you get to the mo­ti­va­tion through those pho­to­graphs. You get a hint of what they were like. We have this mythol­ogy about Steve Jobs that he was either a ge­nius or a jerk, but he had com­plex­ity, like all of us. For some rea­son, Steve trusted me, but be­fore that no one had ac­cess in­side the bub­ble to see what they were even up to. Pasa: How did Steve Jobs stand out? Did he have per­sonal power? Menuez: He was just loaded with charisma. He was the most in­spir­ing per­son I ever met. By the time I met Steve, I had pho­tographed pres­i­dents and movie stars, and I’d had life-and-death ex­pe­ri­ences in Africa, and I’d cov­ered home­less­ness and AIDS, but noth­ing com­pared to be­ing with Steve Jobs and lis­ten­ing to him telling what was com­ing in the fu­ture. It was elec­tri­fy­ing.

Doug Menuez

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