As a photojournalist firmly dedicated to telling stories of global significance, Doug Menuez has borne witness to some incredibly difficult and terrifying things.
He’s seen people killed, has run toward raging forest fires and spent time in squalid drug dens. He and his fellow “hardcore” news photographers “were all willing to die to make a picture that would make an impact,” Menuez says.
However, in 1985, after returning from five weeks covering famine in Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, the photographer—disheartened by the cruelty and violence he’d seen—began to wonder if he might find a subject of equal gravitas, but which would also serve as “tangible evidence of positive change for humanity.”
And so he turned his lens to Silicon Valley. From 1985 to the turn of the millennium, Menuez gained unprecedented access to the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Adobe co-founder John Warnock and venture capitalist John Doerr.
Nearly 30 years later, Menuez has published a book, Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000, which chronicles the inner workings of some of technology’s most important and influential companies, the innovators behind them and the cultural revolution that they helped to spark. In addition to the book, a recently opened exhibit at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View is showing 50 silver gelatin prints from Menuez’s collection.
“It’s the most amazing thing for me,” Menuez says of the book and his exhibit. “It’s a huge validation of an idea that I had back in the day. I don’t think that many people thought it was a great idea, actually.”
At the time Menuez approached Jobs, technology didn’t have the mainstream cachet it has today, and the national media organizations the photographer had been shooting for had little interest in covering an industry that promised then-impossibly futuristic products such as digital cameras.
A seasoned photojournalist, Menuez admits that he even had trouble with that idea, but when Jobs told him he wanted to create a personal computer that would allow a college student to come up with a cure for cancer in his dorm room, Menuez wanted to believe. “Steve had already changed the world once,” he says. “There was a chance he could do it again. And the stakes were high.”
Menuez followed Jobs for three years, during the period after the iconoclastic CEO was ousted from Apple and was heading up NeXT, Inc.—an education-focused computing company.
The photos Menuez captured of the iPhone creator show a man of intense passion and vision. In one image, Menuez finds Jobs explaining technology development cycles to an unnamed individual, his eyes sparkling with focus and a clear enjoyment of the subject. But they also show a side of the inventor that many people did not associate with Jobs in his later years—humor. One such image shows a bearded Jobs howling in laughter and clapping his hands, pleased after visiting a newly opened factory in Fremont.
Menuez also captured the ethos of the early days in Silicon Valley—when corporate culture was shifting and technology firms were inventing new ways of doing business. These changes were partly due to the fact that many of the first techies were also hippies—”You could decorate your cube, you could wear what you wanted, you could sleep under your desk”—and partly out of necessity.
“To build these innovative technologies, they had to reinvent the nature of work,” he says. “They had to figure out new structures for the corporation—for management, for funding, the culture of these companies. It all had to change.”
In addition to the images that captured determination, dedication and genius, Menuez was there for some darker moments—as people gave themselves entirely to the companies and products they sought to create. “They were willing to sacrifice everything,” he says, noting that people lost their families and personal lives to work. “I’m trying to show that these people were human beings on a quest. The people I photographed were on a mission.”
“Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000”