Doug Menuez’s “Fearless Genius” exhibition to debut this month at the Moscow Photobiennale

We’re very excited for Doug Menuez, whose project “Fearless Genius” will be making its debut this month at the Moscow Photobiennale, which is produced by the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow (MAMM) and runs March 29 to May 9. Doug spent 15 years, from 1985 to 2000, documenting the rise of Silicon Valley and produced some 250,000 images in the process. The exhibition in Moscow, featuring 50 prints and titled “Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985–2000,” marks the first time these photos are being publicly displayed. (Download the press release here.)

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“This show was a fantastic surprise and came at just the right moment,” says Doug, whose project began when Steve Jobs allowed Doug to shadow him for three years. “I have to thank Olga Sviblova, director of MAMM, for taking a chance on this material, and Jean-Jacques Naudet for his championing it on La Lettre de la Photographie, which brought it to Olga’s attention.”

On March 31, Doug will present a lecture on his project at the Skolkovo technology institute in the heart of Moscow’s Silicon Valley. “I want to foster a dialogue around what lessons can be learned from the era I documented,” he says. “How can we inspire the next generation of engineers and inventors? Who will be the next Steve Jobs?”

Read on for Doug’s account of how the exhibition came together, and its broader significance…

“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.

For the show, I worked out a cool hybrid approach to the work. Although I now really love digital photography, I shot this work mostly on tri-x film. I found some of my original prints from the ’80s, and they blew me away. So I began to work out how to take the scans we had started doing—we were working on that with National Geographic—and print them on silver gelatin paper. I retouch the scans in Photoshop and then output to digital negs, which we then print in the traditional ‘wet’ darkroom. So here you have an appropriate blend of old and new, with digital scans leading to analog traditional silver prints showing images of people inventing digital technology, including digital photography and software like Photoshop. Crazy.

I think now that Steve has died, and enough time has passed since I ended the project, people are now curious about the history of the technology that surrounds them. They can see that era as a distinct time in history. This esoteric work, despite the subject, is at core about human beings engaged in a passionate, obsessive struggle. I see it as a validation of the original idea to document the human side of high technology—the people who built the world we live in now, while they were building it. At the time, we had no idea how completely their work would change our lives, although I could see something was definitely happening.

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Click to preview images from "Fearless Genius" at the Multimedia Art Museum's website.

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When I started, it seemed obvious the dreamers of Silicon Valley were inventing powerful tools. But many assumed they would have a choice about using these tools. Today, if you want to be engaged in the larger culture, there is no choice.You have changed your behavior and learned to adapt, to some degree. You use a computer and probably a smart phone and take it all for granted. This is very interesting to me, and I hope people begin to look at how our culture and behavior are changing.

Our economy exploded during the digital revolution and whole countries worldwide scaled up with millions of jobs. For those in the developing world, this technology is crucial and still largely unobtainable and represents the opportunity to improve their lives in every way. I often heard engineers in the ’80s talking about how they wanted to bring computers to kids in Africa, to improve agriculture, education, and health care and make the world a better place. That idealism fueled the digital revolution but got corrupted by the staggering success of the Internet boom later on.

With the dotcom bubble came this crazy greed-fueled IPO craze. In many ways, that sort of thinking has stuck, and true innovation seems to be slowed down in the Valley. I mean, look at the millions of jobs created by the PC industry and the people I photographed in the ’80s and ’90s. Since I ended in 2000 I can’t think of a single innovation that has exploded into new jobs and factories in the U.S. and around the world the way computers did. I’m talking about millions of middle-class-paying regular jobs with benefits to support communities, not selling your crafts online through social networking. So what will be the next tech revolution? Will it be green tech, bio tech, or something else? Will it be social networking and 3D printers with everyone working at home?”

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3 Comments

  1. Rick Bolen
    Posted 03/19/2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    When will Dougs photographs from this show be available to view in the Bay area?

  2. Posted 03/21/2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Dear Rick,

    We hope that in the next year or so the images will be exhibited at a local museum or gallery. We are in discussions now with several locations and will announce as soon as we know. Thanks for your interest!
    Best
    doug

    • Posted 04/03/2012 at 12:33 am | Permalink

      Hey what about MY Museum in Ocean Springs MS??? That way I get to see you too!!! Congrats you deserve it!

      Ka


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