Minolta Mirror Magazine: Buried Treasure 

As a Minolta fan, it is always heartwarming to read about the former days.  Whether those days include innovations and breakthroughs or missteps and dead-ends, the stories are compelling.  Unfortunately, many of these tidbits are found in old magazines and forums but rarely in some organized collection.  Most books about Minolta products offer few historical tidbits about the company and other non-technical details.  Rarely can one find sources that place Minolta and its products within the wider realm of photography.  Minolta Mirror fills this void, making it possible to get a feel not only for Minolta’s technical accomplishments but also its influence on the culture of and practice of photography.

Published from 1975 through 1993, Minolta Mirror was a yearly publication that showcased Minolta products and those who used them while telling stories of people, places, and things with words and gorgeous images.  The articles cut across cultures and ideas, offering intellectual and visual content that one could savor leisurely.  If I sound enthused and impressed by these beautiful journals, it’s because I am.

I don’t recall exactly how I learned of Minolta Mirror.  Likely, it was while looking for Minolta-focused books—probably on eBay.  In paging through listings, I was struck by the covers.  All were high-quality color images, looking more like fine art prints than magazine covers.  I resisted buying a copy until I came across an anniversary issue.  At the time, I was trying to learn about Minolta’s history, and that issue seemed like an excellent place to start.

Published in 1978, the Minolta Mirror: Minolta 50th Anniversary Issue coincided with the release of the XD-11/XD7, my favorite manual Minolta.  The XD was the capstone product discussed in an article covering 50 years of Minolta cameras.  This article is still the best overview of Minolta products that I have come across.

An affectionate tribute to Kazuo Tashima, the founder of Minolta, is written as a cross between a biography and a Father’s day card.  While it recounts the significant events in the company’s founding and product releases, it does so in a way that I cannot imagine would occur today.  Clearly, Mr. Tashima was adored.  To the writer’s homage, I will add my thanks and gratitude for his vision and my too-large collection—especially my XDs and Maxxum 7s.

The “Jubilee Special” section contains signature works by Lucien Clergue, Eugene Smith, Kishin Shinoyama,  and David Hamilton.  Finally, a retrospective of Japanese photography called “Japanese Photography: 50 Years Ago” presents images of a cross-section of Japanese life from around the country and across classes.  Fascinating for someone (like me) who has little knowledge of the country. 

After the anniversary issue, I bought two more issues from eBay sellers who had included images of the table of contents and a few interior pages with their listings.  After looking at the images contained in those listings, I was hooked.  You see, although I jumped into photography for the practical reason of documenting my small garden from season to season, there is a part of me that loves still life painting, and so many photographic images appeal to that aesthetic yearning.  Minolta Mirror issues are an inspiring source of quality images.  Gritty black and white and highly-refined color photographs reflecting classic photographic themes are found in each issue.   

As one might imagine, finding specific issues 25 five years after publication ceased was a challenge.  The same five or six years pop up all the time, and I have yet to see a copy of the first issue from 1975.  Fortunately, in my many late-night perusals of eBay, I came across a listing for 16 magazines that included nearly every year from 1977 to 1992!  The seller was eager to get rid of them, so I bought the entire set.  Last year, I found a 1993, and now I am missing only the first issue.

In learning photography, one has to master the technical aspects of exposure and the camera at hand.  However, moving past taking pictures to producing art is a more difficult transition and not one that everyone can make.  I find myself standing with a toe just barely over the line, trying to move entirely to the other side.  The process is fun and frustrating, with every pleasing result followed by many puzzling near misses.  Having reference images that one can use as guidance helps immensely, and my 17 copies of Minolta Mirror are an enduring source of encouragement and inspiration.  

Each issue of Minolta Mirror is a demonstration of the interplay between technology and art, innovation and inspiration, vision and beauty.  In my search for Minolta’s history, I found in Minolta Mirror more than history; I found the many ways that the brainchild of Kazuo Tashima touched the world and continues to enrich my life.  Not bad…not bad at all.

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