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Tuesday, September 22

A Week With David M. - Part Two

The Monster

by David M.

We moved to a bigger house with a spare bedroom and at last I could have a stand-up darkroom, next door to the bathroom. My knees were delighted.

Now that I was a member of a Camera Club, I could see other people’s work and try to emulate it. At the time, soot-and-whitewash was very fashionable and grain was particularly esteemed. I began to push Tri-X beyond all reason. It’s what we did.

One of the members had an enlarger to give away. Was I interested? My old, onion-dome enlarger was getting troublesome so I said yes. Eventually, I gave it away. The new free enlarger proved to be a 7x5” monster, almost as tall and heavy as me, made by Micro Precision Products, better known for their sturdy and versatile metal field cameras.

MPP Micromatic 5x7" enlarger from the MPP Users" Club

No metal had been spared in constructing it. A massive inclined column made of multiple aluminium girders held the gigantic negative carrier and the huge bellows, all counterbalanced by magnificent springs and weights. In principle, it could auto-focus but making it work reliably was beyond my modest engineering skills.

There was no light-source so I knocked up a plywood box to hold a high-powered bulb, painted the inside white and the outside black, and devised some cunning lightproof ventilation holes. I’m quite sure it was extremely dangerous: the plywood box got very hot indeed while I fiddled with focus and composition, but I’d switch off when I smelled burning.

This was a diffusion enlarger and although I don’t think my prints became any better, the towering column meant that they could be much bigger. Here’s a tip for ambitious Camera Club photographers: big prints are more impressive to judges than small ones, even if their size makes their faults more obvious.

I was soon promoted to the Advanced Class. Do they still have 20x16” prints in clubs or has the digital revolution changed this, too? If so, it’s a good thing. Size, as you may have heard, isn’t everything.

And so, you might imagine that I was content. I bought bigger dishes for my bigger prints and lashed out on a real Nikon F. A very scruffy one, it’s true, but Nikons laugh at knocks and it did have the square-hole plain prism. If only I’d known that a mint square hole plain prism (black, in original box) would be worth about £1,200 today, I’d have treated it with more respect.

But in the darkroom, discontent was bubbling. Colour was raising its seductive hydra heads. And my gigantic MPP didn’t have a colour head…

Continued tomorrow.

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1 comment :

Alex Butler said...

Thank you David. I am enjoying these very much! I was doing photography probably around the same time as you but never tried my hand at darkroom work. There is a voice in my mind nagging at me to give it a go. Maybe I will yet!! Look forward to your next blog.