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The Courage to Be: Doug Menuez

On Monday, February 19th, the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College welcomed photojournalist Doug Menuez as keynote speaker for its first “Courage to Be” Dinner/Lecture of the Spring 2018 semester.

Summary written by 2018 Student Fellow Isabella Santana.

The Hannah Arendt Center had the pleasure of hosting Doug Menuez for the first formal dinner of the “Courage To Be” lecture series of the 2017-2018 academic year. The “Courage To Be” lecture series is a program of courses centered around the notion of ‘courage;’ whether in the political, existential and spiritual, or mundane spheres of being. On the evening of February 19, 2018, the students enrolled in the “Courage To Be” courses came flooding into Blithewood Manor to hear Doug Menuez speak on the topic of courage, specifically in regards to documentary photography and photojournalism.

Menuez is a documentary photographer and photojournalist who has photographed an extremely wide range of subjects. He spoke about the way in which he defines himself in relation to his subjects. And it is through this defining, of the self to the ‘other,’ that the individual can begin to grasp the values they hold. Once the individual begins to establish a value system, they can decide what is and is not worth acting courageously for. He admits that he had not actively engaged with the idea of courage in relation to his work, until preparing for this lecture. But once he began to ponder how the subjects of his work, and his work itself, are in dialogue with courage, that he saw courage intrinsically connected to grace under pressure. Furthermore, Menuez holds that by acting with courage, you believe your life has meaning– you claim your own dignity.

His lecture was comprised of an expansive series of images; including but not limited to aids orphans in Uganda, a colony of Amazonian lepers, fishers in Brazil enduring dangerous conditions, Steve Jobs and those who took part in the digital revolution in the Silicon Valley, and individuals close to Menuez who had to face crippling illness and ultimately death. What Menuez found as a through-line between these subjects, was a link between courage and death. By utilizing courage to cope with inevitable deaths and mortal sentencing, there is a sort of grace and transcendence that the individual undergoes and emulates.

This is where Menuez sees courage as a form of pure love and joy, as it is perseverance of the true self. As Menuez stated in his lecture, there is a bond between curiosity and courage, as curiosity allows the individual to come closer to their ‘true self.’ And living the authentic self is the greatest courage for Menuez, as ‘being alive is living with ambiguity and uncertainty.’ Thus, we must make finding our purpose and passion, our mission in life. Here, although not explicitly stated, Menuez seems to allude to a notion of duty to ourselves. And this duty must be carried out, even if that means facing death. For Menuez, we must transcend this dread through grace under pressure, or what some may call courage.

View Doug’s lecture here:

Posted on 30 April 2018 | 1:50 pm

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