Doug Menuez considers his role as a photographer is as a witness to life. He strives to document the everyday moments for the sake of continuity, to prove that a millisecond took place. Photography is how Doug shows he cares. Schwab recognizes that Doug’s strength is documentary photography as they had worked together in the past. Schwab came calling because they wanted more of his style of imagery for their latest campaign. We spoke to Doug about the project.
Schwab hired you to shoot a library of images for use in multi-media from web to print advertising to in-store. You took the approach of capturing day-in-the-life shots. Was this something they asked for or, was this something you felt was the best approach to giving them real moments?
This project was so gratifying because they had come back to me after a long hiatus specifically for my approach to getting real moments. Of course, companies go through marketing changes, and the work needs to meet different creative needs. Schwab had done new research as part of a brand refresh. The results found that my previous imagery was requested over and over again. In general, the company consensus was that for new shots, it should be authentic.
I did feel it was the best way to accomplish their shot list needs and get it to be real. I borrowed ideas from past documentary projects, including the original “Day in the Life” books of which I had taken part. Then with their Creative Director, Nina Harris and Art Buyer, Stephen Lazar we brainstormed a shoot schedule around a mix of real people and actors doing everyday things. So simple. Stephen called my approach “hyper-real,” and I loved that.
The campaign included Millenial friends and families, both at home and about town. Schwab had a tall order and wanted real moments for their campaign. This assignment was in your sweet spot, as you are known for your photojournalistic style and your ability to capture authenticity. Tell us about how you approached capturing scenes with the families.
Other than sleeping at our talent’s homes overnight, you can’t get more real that showing up super early and shooting them waking up, brushing their teeth, and getting dressed for the day. It takes patience and luck to watch and wait for real moments to happen, and I could not have done it this way without the complete trust and support of Nina and Stephen. We shot these scenes before any hair, makeup, wardrobe, or props stepped in, making them truly documentary. We combined these scenarios with other scenarios that had more of our talented team and production to address the range of library needs. But even then, we let scenes unfold with the talent taking the lead in getting engaged in action and improvisation that I would hang out and watch. And suddenly, boom, a real moment happens. I direct like I am shooting a short film, always – especially for stills.
You believe in finding common connections among people, finding everyday moments that remind us of or our shared humanity. What was your approach to documenting interactions among the group of friends? Did they know each other, or were these people hired talent? Did you orchestrate anything out of the ordinary to get people talking and find common ground?
Getting people to relax is always a challenge when you have a mix of talent. People have to be comfortable to forget I am there shooting, with a crew behind me. In this case, we were able to cast genuine families so that intimacy and connection are built-in. In the case of actors, I always try to take time to chat with everyone and learn a bit about them. Then I direct them to meet and learn about each other. Throughout a given scenario, I am watching and learning their personalities and seeing new opportunities. We are together for a long day, and I try to make it fun and give them the responsibility to improvise roles and activities. The result is that I get authentic moments because they have completely forgotten about us. The feedback I get from talent is overwhelmingly positive; they love this kind of shooting. I think on most print shoots, professional actors and models get treated more like mannequins rather than living, breathing humans with feelings – that’s professional and expected on a lot of stylized work. I’m after different results.
Because of your voluntary role as a witness, you spend time watching, waiting, and envisioning shots. This project was a commercial shoot. Did your game plan throw anyone off?
Not at all. These clients from Schwab, Nina and Stephen, are extraordinary, lovely people with extensive experience and tons of great ideas. They embraced my philosophy and did everything possible to make sure I had what I needed. On all my projects, I try to get buy-in from everyone involved from the very first phone call as to how I propose working. When I do commercial work, I am 1,000 percent trying to solve their problems and make them look good. I love doing this work because my clients appreciate what I’m bringing. It’s as if I’m shooting what I’d be shooting anyway on my documentary, personal work. Win-win.
What sort of feedback did you receive after the finished work was delivered?
I got the most beautiful note saying the work had exceeded their expectations, that it was “art” and that they were completely “blown away.” I have it on my wall to remind me why I do this work and how rewarding it can be to push everyone out of their comfort zone. I also have to force myself to take risks and get out of my comfort zone, as well. None of this is easy.
People on-set started referring to your style as “Hyper Real” – The idea of having an artistic expression with incredibly realistic details. When did this name-calling start, and how did it manifest itself? Any fun stories to share?
It started with the first phone call asking me to work with them again. Stephen laughed and said they were calling the original work I had done for them “hyper-real,” and that’s where they wanted to go this time. I immediately ordered T-shirts for the whole crew that said “HYPER-REAL” on them.
Over the years that we had shot together, we evolved the approach to be more high-end, which was stylized and designed to meet their market needs. I loved doing that work as well because I would add my real moments into the mix. But this was a call to return to the roots, to get the real deal of everyday life, my wheelhouse. Hey, I love those little moments, quiet interactions that can tell a story to which your audience can relate.
There were a lot of fun moments, but what comes to mind was not that funny for me – while we were waiting for talent before a soccer shoot, it started pouring rain. I thought this was great. The kids and coach were kicking the ball around, and I played in high school, so I ran out there with a camera in hand and some poorly fitting mud boots. Things got a little too real when with the first ball passed to me, I tore my hamstring! But the show must go on, so I limped my way through.
Follow Doug on Instagram to see work from a photographer and director circling the globe to find those everyday moments that fuel empathy, connect cultures, and remind us of our shared humanity.