The Mentor

The Mentor

Published in the teens and twenties, The Mentor is an interesting little publication. I’ve been reading the August 1, 1918 issue on photography (written by Paul L. Anderson) with great interest. The publication’s mottos “Learn One Thing Every Day” and “Make The Spare Moment Count” should give you a clue to the diversity of things that such a publication might cover. It isn’t strictly a photography publication at all. The feelings about photography awakening at the beginning of the twentieth century are summed up pretty nicely by the editor W.B. Woffat:

For many years photography was largely confined to portraiture and the faithful reproductions of objects and scenes. All that was expected of a camera was to “make a picture” of a thing. Within the last forty years, however, as reproductive processes have been invented, photography has come to be one of the most useful of the arts. Beginning about 1883, the quality and character of the illustrations in our magazines and books changed radically. Where, previously, there had been nothing but hand engravings of one sort or another, photo-engraving appeared, and, with that, the horizon of magazine illustration extended far beyond the reach of the liveliest imagination. Who could have forseen then, in the first photo-engraving processes, such possibilities as photographic printing in full colors, or moving picture films? Today, pictorial illustration depends on photography, and there is apparently little or nothing beyond the reach of photographic art. It discloses the internal arrangements of human anatomy; it makes a record of the affairs of heavenly bodies; it pictures things the human eye cannot see; it is even potent in the realm of mystery, for have we not seen photographs of ghosts (?) reproduced from spirit seances? When objects and situations in life that do not exist are wanted, the camera can, by some trick or device, create them for us. There seems to be no limit to the possibilities. Each wonder displayed in photographic reproduction gives way to some effect more wonderful still.

The illustrations selected by Anderson do not contain any photographs of “ghosts.” There is some overlap with the examples he used in his 1917 book Pictorial Photography (which I have already posted), but for the most part the illustrations in this one are unique. Being the obsessive compulsive I am, I’ve placed the (unique) illustrations online. My copy of this one included six photogravures, and multiple halftones scattered through the text. I’d like to put the text online too, but that will have to wait a while. I don’t have many spare moments just now.

There seems to be a tendency of most writers on photography to consider early attitudes about photography as naive—however, a careful reader might note the question mark after the concept of “ghosts.” It was placed there by Woffat, not me. His embrace of photography as a potentially fictional medium, I feel, was not all that unusual. The distinction between fiction and fact was then, as it has always been, somewhat ambiguous.

However, the stress placed on “scientific” uses of photography is also echoed in Anderson’s text. Photography is a way of seeing things we can’t physically see— both fictional and real.