Doug Menuez recently shot a documentary-style campaign for St. George’s University School of Medicine, which “has contributed more than 10,000 physicians who have been licensed in all 50 states and Canada and have practiced in over 45 countries of the world,” according to their website.
The purpose of the campaign—created by the Halo Group and veteran creative director Michael Asphar—was to differentiate the university by positioning its dual-degree program as a way for students to stand out in a crowded job market.
“Michael’s brief included the basic direction of classic, dramatic black & white imagery,” explains Doug, who was brought in by art buyer Donna Goldberg, with whom he’d worked in the past. “Humanist, authentic, quiet emotion… His layouts reminded me immediately of LIFE magazine and the master storytellers, like W. Eugene Smith, I grew up with.
“I met Smith when I was a student, just 17 years old,” Doug continues. “He reviewed my portfolio while drinking scotch and dropped a few bombs on me that stuck with me and set me on fire to follow his path… Which I have tried to do, forging my own way with documentary storytelling both in my personal projects and in my commercial assignments. So this was a dream assignment.”
Doug and Michael discussed the direction for the images, with both agreeing that the right mix of photojournalism and advertising was essential. “So much of this project depended on capturing a real moment,” says Doug. “Michael had a vision that I really worked hard to live up to.”
The shoot took place in Manhattan at a hospital and upstate New York at the New England Equine Practice. “They opened their doors to us and gave us the run of the facility. It was incredibly generous,” says Doug of the latter. The job was produced by Lisa Maria Cabrera of 10th & Hudson and Bethany Obrecht. “They worked one miracle after another,” says Doug. “We needed a hospital with operating rooms, as well as a veterinary clinic, and we had to shoot multiple ads over two days in various locations. It was pretty tough.”
At one point, fiction quickly turned to fact when the clinic’s practice manager, Paul Kuhn, invited Doug into an actual surgery: A horse was having a cancerous cyst removed from its tail. “He said there was room for two or three of us, so I grabbed the model playing the vetenarian in the setup I was about to shoot, one camera and a lens, my assistant, and my son, who was home from the road with his band and helping out to hold a light. We knew we couldn’t use these as the ads, but this was truly a photojournalism moment happening in the middle of our advertising project and we just rolled with it.
“As we entered the surgery, they were finishing settling the drugged horse, which was trussed and hanging upside down, onto the surgical bed. I’ve shot all kinds of surgery, from heart to back to triage with gunshots, so I was very used to the situation. But nobody on my crew had been in an OR before with humans, let alone an upside-down horse.
“Paul and the vets doing the surgery said we should shoot fast. One of the nurses guided my model, so that she was holding on to this great horse’s head. I quickly made some shots. A few minutes later, they insisted my talent move to the back of the horse, where the vets were using an instrument to cut off this massive cyst. Blood was splashing onto her surgical gown, and I could tell she was completely freaked out but bravely carried on.
After a few minutes, I cleared us out of there. Everyone was in shock, but all I could think was that was that we had just infused their campaign with some real-life experience. And that no doubt showed on the model’s face later in the day when we shot the real thing.”
Agency: The Halo Group
Creative director: Michael Asphar
Art buyer: Donna Goldberg
Producers: Lisa Maria Cabrera of 10th & Hudson and Bethany Obrecht
Digital tech & retoucher: Quinton Jones
First assistant: Demetrius Fordham