Conversations on Passion: Doug Menuez

Conversations on Passion is an interview series with those who have found and are living their passions in some form. If you'd like to be profiled or know someone who would be a great fit, send me a note at

Photo©Doug Menuez

Photo©Doug Menuez

I'm very excited to share this next interview. You may not have heard about Doug Menuez, but he is a fantastic photojournalist and storyteller. From the minute I read the first few words of one of his stories, I was captivated. Below is just a snippet of his amazing background:

"His early work as a photojournalist began in 1981 as an intern for The Washington Post, and from there began a career as freelance photojournalist for Time, Newsweek, Life, USA Today, Fortune and many other publications worldwide.

His subjects included the Ethiopian famine, the Olympics, and the AIDS crisis. He gained exclusive, unprecedented access to record the rise of Silicon Valley and daily lives of its most brilliant innovators, including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Bill Joy and John Doerr during an era when more jobs and wealth were created than at any time in human history. His many portrait assignments range from Mother Tereza to Robert Redford and President Bill Clinton.

Menuez’ work has won numerous awards, been exhibited in solo and group shows and been featured in nine of the bestselling Day in the Life books. His advertising clients include global brands such as Chevrolet, Emirates Airlines, McDonald’s, Allstate, Coca Cola, Microsoft, Citibank, Nokia, GE and Samsung. Menuez’ books include the bestseller co-produced with David Elliott Cohen, 15 Seconds: The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1989, which generated more than five hundred thousand dollars in relief money for earthquake victims."

Check out his work at his website and take a look at the slideshow at the end of the post for some more of his great shots. Read on to learn about his passions, thoughts on passion, and how they influence and govern his work.

What is passion to you?

Photo©Doug Menuez

Photo©Doug Menuez

Fuel. The necessary fuel to build a life worth living.

What are you passionate about?

My work. My family- without their love I could not work. My friends. Light. Music. Contrasts in cultures. Learning to be. What we all share. Beauty, unresolved mystery and the absurdity of life. Caçhaca. Not in any particular order. The home run is the miraculous photograph I occasionally take that gives me instant joy and certainty that I have created something expressing a true inner aspect of myself or what I'm interested in, and yet also connects with others in a meaningful way. Then it's useful.

How did you come to find your passion?

It was a gift I was born with apparently.

Has your passion changed over time? How so?

I don't think it has changed. I focus more or less at times on different disciplines but the core spark is the same. 

Do you believe in having just one passion?

I think we all have many passions, but we probably repress most of them. You do succeed at what you focus on so that's an issue. Ideally, lessor passions support the main passion. In my case, I think all of my passions stem from the challenges of exercising creativity and tapping into the source of that.

How has working on your passion as a career impacted your love for your passion?

I was lucky in that my early passion for art became clearly expressed as photography which became my career and source of income. So the success gained by following my passion has only reinforced my desire to continue growing as a visual artist. Now the challenge is film.

What was your biggest passion project that you've completed or are currently working on?

FG BOOK_cover_lores.jpg

I just published my new book, "Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000" by Atria Books. It's the culmination of 15 years shooting the greatest innovators of the digital revolution, with incredible access inside their world, working as a witness as they changed our world forever. This is the biggest project and most rewarding I've ever done. I feel a huge relief and sense of accomplishment maybe for the very first time in my life. But now I'm working on the documentary, TV series, exhibitions and education program which I hope will inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators, so an even bigger challenge probably. The key theme of the project is about what is worth doing. That is really all about the passion of the people I photographed and how that drove great discovery. But it required tremendous sacrifice on a level not yet well understood by the outside world or many in the young tech community today. Money, it turns out, is not enough to make someone walk through that fire of invention. Passion is the key.

What about your career are you most excited about?

Photo©Doug Menuez

Photo©Doug Menuez

The unknown - every shoot is a huge gamble and risk. There is actually no option for failure, yet I'm always confident I will dig deep and find a way to solve whatever complications or unexpected challenges arise. Of course it can be terrifying but the rush of finding the solution is addictive. It's also a process and I have learned to be patient (still learning!) and look around for the unexpected when I get stuck. In practical terms, there are failures of certain ideas attempted through that process and mining those failures for clues to the solution is key to the process and success. 

What about your life experiences do you think helped you in your pursuit of your passion?

I know that despite very difficult circumstances growing up I would not be doing what I am without the example and support of my parents. But because I began working young, before and after school, every summer, I got the message very early that making a living doing what I loved was going to be crucial for me. 

What are some of the key elements of your path that led you to where you are today?

What I would be when I grew up was not even a question, I always knew I would be doing photography, but I did not know how to do that exactly. I just had to work. And the jobs I had from the age of 10 to 20 - dishwasher, ditchdigger, garbageman, janitor, ice cream maker, bank teller, house painter, car washer - served to reinforce my thinking that I had to figure out how to follow my passion. Working as a photo assistant was a good first step which ultimately gave me practical knowledge and a desire for college. For a while I was in a blues band and that almost sidetracked me as I love the blues and music as much as photography, but I felt freer in photography because it was a solo effort. But it was deciding to go to college that made the most difference and that led quickly to my career. Since I left home at the age of 16 this was completely my decision and my own expense and I almost didn't go.

Did your formal education impact your choices in incorporating your passions in your life?

Definitely. I started my education in art school trying to be an artist. The experience was negatively shaded by the stress of working full time to pay for it and a surprising lack of passionate fellow students. Changing schools and combining fine art studies with visual anthropology and journalism brought me into contact with wildly driven, passionate, competitive yet supportive students, along with teachers rooted in real-world experience that were absolutely primary in driving my career. In this new environment most of my fellow students had to pay their own way and I think this hunger drove us all to push hard for what we wanted. It wasn't life or death exactly, but life as a satisfying creative challenge, or as a major compromise doing shitty jobs - a form of living death.

Tell me about some of the sacrifices you've made for your passion.

Photo©Doug Menuez

Photo©Doug Menuez

As alluded to above, working endless hours, spending all night in the darkroom, night after night and so forth is just a basic requirement to acquire craft and competence. The sadder part was as I gained success in my career I was not mature enough to balance that with other aspects of my life and lost friends and my first marriage. I do think if you want to achieve excellence and have leverage over your career destiny you do have to focus like a laser. And the reality of that is often the sacrifice of relationships, your health, or worse. As a young photojournalist I was willing to die to try to make a photograph that would bring light to injustice or possibly improve our world. That's a high bar, but all of my peers felt the same and we all took insane risks at one time or another. 

Tell me about a time when following/working your passion didn’t work out for you.

That's the funny part, there has never been a time when I followed my true passion and found my true path that it hasn't worked out. Truly. It's the times I became deluded and distracted from my passion, when I felt I had to compromise and sacrificed doing the things I love most that I failed spectacularly. I got caught up in fears and insecurities and lost faith in myself. The lessons have been letting go of fear, leaping into the unknown and believing in myself and saying no to things I don't really want to do. Very tough to maintain but I try.

Are there are any tips you would give to others to help them in their search for passions?

Photo©Doug Menuez

Photo©Doug Menuez

I learned from photographing Steve Jobs and the great innovators that life is like a mission. Ask yourself if what you are working on is worth any sacrifice. If the answer is yes, then you've found your mission and true path. If it's no, then your talents and choices you've made for how you spend your time and energy are not aligned. Everyone wants to find meaning in their lives, and even if they don't understand this at some point they will have a crisis and have to deal with it. Most of us live with great compromises. We have serious responsibilities and can't drop everything to pursue our dreams. So the trick is not to see this challenge as binary - it's not black and white. It can be a kaizen like process of clearly stating the goal and moving toward that with conscious choices that move you closer, step by step over time. Try to enjoy the journey. And never, ever give up.