The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1975, Volume 21, Number 2
James E. Moss, Editor
Thomas L. Scharf, Assistant Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Reviw Editor

Mystique of the Missions: Photographic Impressions. By Marvin Wax. Palo Alto, CA.: Images of America Series, American West Publishing Company, 1974. Illustrations. Notes. 112 pages. $12.50.

Reviewed by Larry Booth, Curator of Title Insurance Historical Collection, San Diego. Mr. Booth is co-author of a photographic essay: “Portrait of a Boom Town: San Diego in the 1880s,” California Historical Society Quarterly, December, 1971.

I suggest that you first go through the entire book without reading one single word. Just look and look-and see and see. Then go through it again, reading every word. It won’t take long. The foreword, the quotations from The California Padres and Their Missions by Charles Francis Saunders and J. Smeaton Chase, 1915, and Marvin Wax’s photographic notes and details can be read in a short while. By the time you have finished, the Missions may be yours more surely than ever before. As one of my friends said, when I showed him the book, “Wax’s pictures seem to carry over a feeling for the Mission builders, how they lived and scraped clay together to make church and shelter, how they managed to provide for their needs from spare surroundings.”

Words like time, gentle, age, softness, nuances, naturalness, unspoiled, directness and painterly come to mind. This is a book about time-but without dates. Do not look for historical particulars, because there are few other than identifications of the Missions. One might say these photographs are historical particulars.

In the photographic notes Marvin Wax gives brief information about his background, his photographic philosophy, his use of natural light, and his choice of Nikkormat 35mm cameras with 28mm, 50mm and 150mm lenses. Although he says that originally he did not intend to publish his Missions photographs, it is clear that he knew from the beginning what he wanted to say with his cameras. Probably many have photographed those same places without having recorded them quite so perceptively.

The original 35mm film size and use of natural light with its infinite variations in color contribute to the photographs’ soft, warm mood that matches the subject material very well. There is no slick, artificial light brightness sometimes found in many big color picture books. The photographs in Mystique of the Missions appear much as the actual views would to viewers’ eyes. Marvin Wax comments that the lens, during some of the long exposures necessary with natural light, saw more detail than his own eyes did. Quality of the printing does not seem to be first rate. One wishes it could have been better.

As one who knows and works with early photographs a great deal, I find it easy to imagine that Marvin Wax might really have made these photographs in 1915 or earlier; and now, by some strange kind of magic, have zapped himself into a younger man and these photographs into Kodachrome II. There is about these pictures what Wax calls, “a strong suggestion of time gone by.”

Mills and Markets: A History of the Pacific Coast Lumber Industry to 1900. By Thomas R. Cox. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1974. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Notes. 332 pages. $17.50.

Reviewed by Edwin T. Coman, Jr., former assistant professor of business history, Stanford Graduate School of Business and author of Time, Tide and Timber, A Century of Pope & Talbot.

Thomas Cox, Professor of History at San Diego State University, has made a major contribution to the study of Pacific Coast business. It is fortunate that he has undertaken this study while records of the concerns are available and a few of the individuals who were active in the early lumber trade are still living. His copious footnotes are evidence of the diligence with which he has located primary source material in company records, correspondence and contemporary accounts to make this work a definitive source of information on an industry which was the mainstay of many a small community on the Pacific Coast and was often the only source of income. The accounts of the unsuccessful attempts to stabilize the industry emphasize both the rugged individualism of the lumbermen and their almost perennial shortage of working capital.

It was wise of the author to set his cut-off date at 1900. After that date a gradually accelerating change took place in the lumber industry. The cargo trade began to decline and had far less significance after the 1930 depression and the rise of the rail trade marked the end of the dominance of San Francisco.

There is almost nothing to criticize in this study and my remarks are largely on the brevity of treatment of a few. aspects of the subject. I wish that a bit more could have been included on the contribution of the logger, that such men as E. C. Brehm and E. S. “Doc” Grammer could have been treated in more detail. While the heyday of the steam schooner was from 1900 to 1930, it was an important means of communication with the small coastal towns in this roadless period. Not only did the steam schooners bring supplies and passengers to these towns but they were a form of investment for the little people in the San Francisco Bay region. Clerks and schoolteachers bought 1/64s in these vessels and often made a good profit after one or two voyages. These are but very minor complaints about a most excellent book, one which is recommended as required reading for any student of the business history of the West.