Mentors

[I was on a bad blog site for a year and hardly anyone saw my stuff, so occasionally I will be reposting old posts that are not necessarily topical or relevant, but still interesting to me.]


men·tor
ˈmenˌtôr,ˈmenˌtər/
noun
1. an experienced and trusted adviser.
synonyms: adviser, guide, guru, counselor, consultant;
confidant(e)

I have spoken about this slightly before in my education timeline. But this will go into a bit more detail.
Having a mentor is something that I think everyone needs. Those fortunate enough to have or a had a mentor in their lives will completely understand this. If you have never had one, think about getting one. Although the finding of one is more organic than a web search, the looking is important. Most often they come about when you are already doing something that you enjoy. They are a person of knowledge that sees in you, potential and then takes the time to work with you and be there for you to further your education.

I myself have been lucky enough to not only have a mentor, but I had two, And they were in different fields. Set Construction and Photography.

When I was in high school I fell into the theatre department's technical program. The building of the sets and running of the productions. Sets, props, sound, lights and some very strange things involved in the setting up and running a show. We had two technical directors, (the person in charge) while I was involved. The first was a former student and she wasn't that interested in teaching. She was more of a do this and do that kind of boss. And she was only there for a year. The next was also a former student, but he had spent years in the industry doing various jobs around the county our school was in. He was much more interested in the process and was well versed in techniques and production-oriented tasks.

Within a very short time, he realized that I had some talent in building and was actually very interested in the work. I started spending long hours after school working with him. It wasn't until much later that I realized that I was special. I just thought he was teaching me these things because I was the only one who hung around as much. I learned so much from him, but I didn't think very much about it. I was a little self-involved. But in my senior year, when the school put on a production of Dracula, I decided that I wanted the lead role. No one thought I could do it. But he encouraged me and after I got the part, he even helped me with my accents and stage directions. All the time while also building the show. The director was so confident in me that she worked with him on my schedule so I could do both. She didn't think she could do the show without me, and he knew he couldn't build the show without me. I was really the only student he had that was willing to work and didn't look at the time building the shows as a social after school hang out.

The production went over really well and was of the most popular shows the school had put on. Almost every show sold out. And I portrayed Dracula so well, I scared people out of the theater. It was a huge triumph for me. And the "Theater Club" was even generous enough to award me "Best Walk On". They were against me doing it and tended to think of the technical crew as useless. They were the actors after all. And I was a just not one of them. But I was very content because everyone else at the school was in my corner. I was never part of the popular crowd in school, but that last semester, everyone knew me.

After I graduated I went on to college to work on a degree in English. I was planning on being a teacher and I loved to read and write, so it seemed like as good an idea as anything else. I returned to my old high school to see a show that my girlfriend was working on and to see my old technical director. After the show, we went to a late dinner and there he asked me what I was up to now. When I said I was at such and such college working on my English degree and taking some other classes in art and design, he just stared at me. I asked what he thought and he said it was a waste of my time. He said that I was talented in set construction and I should look into that. It had never occurred to me that I could do that for a living, even though I knew that he was doing it for a living. We talked some more and he said that if I wanted to move in that direction, he knew some people at another college that had a technical program. I thought about it for the rest of my semester and then decided that he was right. So I transferred to the college he spoke of and dove headlong into the trade. I learned a lot from those teachers, and it was nice that I had their respect since I had come to them with a glowing reference.

While I was there I started working in other art disciplines. Things that would have benefits in my set building and possible design work. One of those areas was photography. I had been gifted a very nice manual film camera when I graduated from high school. I had taken a course called "Physical Science" in high school and one section had been about photography. I feel in love with the idea of creating images that I saw in my mind. The composition of shots in the viewfinder. Allowing people to see what I see. It was in this that I found another mentor.

I took a couple of summer classes in photography through a local community center. One of the teachers was a former student of Ansel Adams. We shared quite a few similar sensibilities and passions. The classes were short. Just a few getting to know you and familiarities with our equipment. Then off on a couple of field trips to various places. We should go to the locations shoot for a while and he would instruct on how to achieve desired effects. He had a wealth of knowledge to tap, and I tapped a lot. I was the youngest in the class by far, and I was less set on ideas that I had already developed, as opposed to the others who were more there for the excursions than the lessons.

We then dropped off our films at a lab and picked up or developed rolls and proof sheets later. Then a week or so later we met again and went over our shots again. He made comments about things and asked what a person was trying to achieve and whether or not they felt they had gotten it. Then he would talk about your shots on how to produce better effects or the use of the camera settings to push things one way or another to produce other effects. He was quite impressed with many of my shots and asked a lot more questions of me than the others. He said later that he saw a lot of himself in my eye. I even managed to take a picture in one shot that he had been trying to get for years and just couldn't find the right look or timing for it.

After the classes, we talked a few more times. He wasn't a mentor like my high school set building teacher, in that I spent less time with him,  but his words and advice carried a lot of weight. We talked about using your eyes to conceptualize your shot before you even take it. To be always aware of your surroundings, because some of the best photos taken were spur of the moment. He talked a lot about using the negative, not just to produce the picture you took, but to produce the picture you saw in your head when you took it. He explained different films and camera tricks you could use to manipulate an image to be more than it seemed. He listened to my stupid questions and was very patient in his explanations. He wanted to see what I would do next. And I was excited to push things even further.

In college, I spent as much time in the darkroom as I did in the scene shop. My boss would sometimes call the darkroom to ask me questions about the progress of shows and other projects I had on my plate. Mostly, though, he wanted to know when I was coming back to work. But he and other bosses I had in the theater department knew that as good as I was in the shop and at building and fabricating, I had another mistress. And she was just as demanding as they were.

Sadly, I never got to show my photography mentor what I accomplished. We fell out of touch and I moved around the state, working here and there. I was quite good. I simply could not set down enough roots to set up a darkroom for myself. As time went on I really forgot about him. Too self-involved for my own good. But when digital photography and computer editing software became more mainstream, I was able to work on my photography more. And all those old lessons came flooding back. I started digging through old binders of negatives and scanning them for editing. Just when I thought I had gotten something I really wanted to show him, he died. Unexpectedly. I had not had contact with him in years and I found out on social media. I contacted his widow, about giving her a print of mine. But I never heard back. I wanted to give her the picture he loved. But too long and gone was the time. I doubt she even remembered me.

Mentors have a power that transcends. It is a feeling that fills you with enthusiasm and self-worth and courage. I received so much from my mentors. and They received something back as well. Whether it was pride or just a feeling of relief that there was someone else in the world that saw things in a similar light. I will never be able to ask one of them. But you can bet I will ask the one that's still in my life. My mentors changed me. They gave me passions. They gave me ideas. They gave me hope. I would never be who I am today without them. And I thank them for that.


But That's Just Me...Walking My Mind

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